A young man from the wrong side of the tracks (Ranbir Kapoor) aims to become a big shot in the glitzy crime world of Bombay of the 1960s.
Bombay Velvet had all the trappings to be the definitive gangster film to come out of Bollywood. And it had the perfect filmmaker too at its helm in Anurag Kashyap, with a dream budget at his disposal to let his vision soar. Sadly however, in spite of its impeccable technicalities, the film crash-lands soon after take off and ends up being one of Kashyap’s weakest efforts yet.
That bane of Indian cinema, its screenplay, lets the film down big time. Based on Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables and also inspired by James Ellory’s LA Quartet, the film is lost in its recreation of the Bombay of a bygone era and Kashyap himself seems more excited in giving nods to every well-known gangster film from Scarface (1932), The Roaring Twenties (1939) and Once Upon A Time in America (1984) to Martin Scorsese and Miller’s Crossing (1990). Sure, a filmmaker is entitled to have his indulgences and have fun making his movie (the use of Tommy guns), but not at the cost of neglecting the central narrative and this is where Bombay Velvet suffers. And while admittedly the production design deserves a pat on the back, it creates a Bombay that is put into the world of the classic Hollywood gangster film (Chicago?) rather than a realistic depiction of what Bombay really was like then. Again I say – one is still forgiving of historical inaccuracies or realism and willing to go with the directors fantasies as long as the film holds up. But…
The writing is surprisingly lazy and convenient ridden with just a few moments that stand out. Situations like how Balraj (Kapoor) becomes the right-hand man of Khambatta (Karan Johar) and the manager of the Bombay Velvet club, or the fact that a petty criminal with a little/no knowledge of English would go to see The Roaring Twenties (running in Bombay in the 60s?) and be a James Cagney fan, are pretty implausible and again, this seems to be the directors tribute to Cagney than Balraj’s. While the film is densely plotted and packs in a love story, a media war between two Parsi friends turned foes, the smuggling racket, the turning of Bombay into a business district, the grabbing of mill land etc etc, it is just not clever enough and even simplistic, cliche driven and silly at times like in the twist with Rosie. With its various tracks juggling for attention, characterizations too suffer and even if the characters have their quirks and attributes, their etching out and dialogue writing is the weakest one has seen in an Anurag Kashyap film, not making you connect with them or feel for them at all. One fails to understand some of their motivations and what they are really doing in the film, Tony, for instance. The several stories running parallel to each other also make for a choppy narrative flow with enough plot holes that further don’t help the film’s cause.
The performances too are a mixed bag. Ranbir Kapoor gives it all as the wannabe big shot but playing a man of the streets doesn’t come easily to him and his lingo and bad English appear forced and tells us he is ‘acting’. He is also handicapped with a character that is so full of himself that it is not easy to root for him. Anushka Sharma – all lips – gives one of the weakest performances of her career as musical diva Rosie Noronha, coming to life only in the odd ‘jazz’ number like Dhadaam. But then it has to be said that the love track between Anushka and Ranbir is one of the weaker ones in the film and there’s not much she can do here. Karan Johar actually has his moments – his manic giggling – but also his scenes of unintended hilarity. Kay Kay Menon does what he can, while Manish Choudhary and Satyadeep Mishra are adequate enough in their roles. Raveena Tandon shows what it is to be a prima donna in her 30 seconds of screen time, something that Anushka doesn’t manage for all the footage she gets in the film.
Technically though, the film is on firm footing with Rajeev Ravi’s polished camerawork a stand out. The creation of 1960s Bombay (Sonal and Sameer Sawant) and mixing in of the filming done in Sri Lanka (standing in for Bombay) is matched nicely enough, while the editing (Thelma Schoonmaker, Prerna Saigal) makes sure the pace of the film never flags and some of the action sequences (Chuck Piceroni Jr) are well executed too. Amit Trivedi and Mike McCleary score with their music even if the lyrics are odd to say the least. Purists, of course, will frown at the ‘jazz’ pieces and I’m sure hardcore Geeta Dutt fans would be outraged at the Jaata Kahan Hai Deewane re-recording but to each his own.
All in all, Bombay Velvet proves yet again that a weak story cannot help a film, no matter what.
Hindi, Action, Drama, Color