Joined: 18 November 2013
Joined: 18 November 2013
Ranbir Kapoor as the wild child Johnny endears in this star-crossed romance
Let's put it out there that Johnny Balraj, played by Ranbir Kapoor, in director Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet is a nut job on good days and a loose canon on bad ones. His madness is reflected in his darting eyes and his craziness is quadrupled when he meets the alluring jazz singer Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma).
It's love at first sight for the street-toughened criminal, who doesn't catch a break in life. He wants her and wants her with a rabid intensity. Now, Balraj is a child of post-independent India and lives in Bombay's [now Mumbai] red light district with his foster mother, a prostitute with questionable parenting skills. But his life dramatically changes when a stylish and sardonic media mogul Kaizad Kambhata (Karan Johar) takes him under his wing and uses him to do all the dirty jobs in the business. Their union is absurd because it makes you question why a rich man would even bother nurturing a street-toughened petty criminal and mould him to be a manager of a swanky jazz club.
But Kapoor does a splendid job of making it all look convincing and routine. He jumps from playing a violent lover to a cruel killer and then to a greedy upstart with startling conviction.
Johar, who makes his first major acting splash with Bombay Velvet, also does his bit of playing the scheming business tycoon. He's pure evil when it comes to looking after his own interests, but you loathe him truly when he makes pointed references to Johnny's faulty English and revels in his own supercilious privileged upbringing. The scene where he steps out so that he can laugh aloud and smirk at Johnny's lack of understanding of English is top notch.
The first half is engaging as Kashyap draws you into Johnny, Rosie and Kaizad's world. They are all collectively troubled and their present is dictated by their fractured pasts. You get into their heads to a large extent in the first half.
A chunk of credit is owed to Kashyap and his crew for painstakingly recreating '60s Mumbai. The ambience lends itself perfectly to a love story that has all the signs of going wrong. Actress Sharma, bee-stung lips and all, is convincing as an exploited jazz singer. While Kapoor and Sharma are individually great in their roles, together they don't necessarily come across as a knock-out couple. Their fights have more depth and chemistry than their amorous encounters.
The second half isn't as tightly knit as the first as their lives unravel at a frenetic and confused pace. The web of deceit, deception and betrayal becomes unnecessarily convoluted. In the last 30 minutes, this skewed Romeo and Juliet-style romance with some crazy protagonists ends up looking likeThe Terminator.
The climax is violent and gory as Balraj goes on a relentless killing spree with a machine gun. It's all good, but somewhere you forget what he's actually fighting for. Having said that, Bombay Velvet makes for a good one-time watch primarily due to good performances from its lead actors and a reminder of a forgotten era.
Film: Bombay Velvet
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar and Kay Kay Menon
Rating: 3 out of 5
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Few films have the ability to get your attention right from the opening shot. In Bombay Velvet, Anurag Kashyap " jumping from a mid-budget-indie scale to no-holds-barred mainstream mode " does this exceptionally well. As the opening credits roll, a nostalgic surprise from the 90s greets you against the backdrop of Amit Trivedi's jazz score, and the world of Bombay Velvet becomes yours before you can blink. The atmosphere is intoxicating; the sets, costumes and scope are far beyond anything done so far in Bollywood.
The film is supposed to borrow from Gyan Prakash's book, Mumbai Fables, which is a look at the city's recent history. But Bombay Velvet is no historical sermon. It's a love story, pure and simple. Ranbir Kapoor is Johnny Balraj, a boxer turned mobster. It's a showy role and he looks great in a boxing vest. He also looks extremely cool as he chats up Rosie, the girl of his dreams, played by an equally attractive Anushka Sharma.
She croons velvet on stage, he woos her with his eyes and smile. When Anuskha beautifully lip syncs to "Dhadaam Dhadaam", it's paisa vasool date movie stuff, hyper romanticized. Sharma and Kapoor make a great couple - convincingly and deeply in love, even when the girl smashes furniture on the guy. It's been a while since we saw an on screen romantic couple to root for in a Hindi film. This duo's chemistry is a breath of fresh air.
Then there's Karan Johar as the villainous newspaper baron Khambatta, pulling off an unlikely, uncontrollable snigger when you least expect it, and Satyadeep Mishra as Balraj's pal, Chimman, who can own the screen with just his stare. They're all matched by the incredible production design that recreates 1950s' Bombay with such detail that it's impossible to differentiate the sets from CGI. The first half glides along to perfection, with Trivedi's background music always on point to stitch scenes together.
In the second half of Bombay Velvet, there's a sequence featuring a massively long buildup, with sexy lighting and music, that develops into a dazzling slow motion shot of a vengeful man firing dual guns in slow motion. The walls are peppered with holes, the furniture explodes into pieces " it's so powerful it seems like he's spraying the whole world with spitfire. He ends up killing two, inconsequential and faceless people and you're left wondering what the buildup was for.
This scene accurately reflects the essence of the second half of Bombay Velvet, and the effect it has on the audience. Post-interval, the story wilts and Kashyap dedicates himself to making everything look cool, but losing sight of the narrative. The film looks like a million bucks, but has no depth. In cricketing terms, it feels like a beautifully crafted, well-timed shot " only to be caught at the boundary.
While the first half is a homage to films from the 1970s, the second ends up becoming a film from that era: complete with clichd blackmail based dialogues on film negative rolls, double roles, Madh Island gold biskut maal, damsels in distress, and so on. Kashyap is known to take cinematic clichs and subvert them, but here he treats the clichs with great seriousness.
Despite the magic of editor Thelma Schoonmaker (and there's a lot of it), the film's story elements end up to be mostly incoherent. There is a 1950s' Bombay real estate scam plot point, which is pretty much indecipherable. It's tough to figure out what Khambatta is about, what his deals with the real estate barons are, and what exactly is at stake. There is a rival newspaper too, and there, the intentions of the editor (Manish Choudhary) are unclear. Then there's some history about the World Trade Center force fed to us during the end credits, which makes even less sense.
Rather than being its own beast, Bombay Velvet is more a throwback to older, better gangster films by Hollywood legends like Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers and Curtis Hanson. There's a Goodfellas car-trunk nudge and a Miller's Crossing hat wink, and neither of them add anything to the plot except for fan service and a strain for greatness that remains out of reach. There's a noticeable lack of humour in the film, even though the film's elements are not dark enough to warrant such seriousness. The film is mainstream and filmi', so it's hard to imagine why there is only one joke in the whole movie.
Needing some sort of punch in the second half, Kashyap makes a late grab for thrills and renders the aforementioned tommy gun scene, but it speaks more of the desperation to compensate for a weak story than it does about delivering a great cinematic moment. Clearly, the curse of the second half gets to even the best.
However, make of it what you will, but for all its weaknesses, what Bombay Velvet lacks in complexity, it ultimately makes up for with its sheer beauty. And if you think about it, that more or less sums up the mainstream genre, so perhaps on his first attempt at a blockbuster, Kashyap is on the right track after all.
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