Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet is a visual treat. Excellently presenting the bygone era, you truly traverse into the 1960s Bombay. The smokey alleys of the red light district, mill worker unions and the rising media barons all compliment to a story that breathes Bombay’s upheaval to become Mumbai in the coming years however coming from a director like Kashyap who in the past has developed our taste buds for realistic cinema, his first attempt at a commercial film seems too cliched. Settling for filmy story, what ruins this film is a botched up second half. Post-interval, the film loses its hold as the plot weakens.
Bombay Velvet kicks off in 1949 when a young Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) alights from a train which is his first tryst with Bombay. Balraj accompanied by his foster mother who seeks prostitution as a means for survival and raises Balraj under morally questionable circumstances. Young Balraj meets a local lad Chiman (Satyadeep Misra) who is a pick pocketer and soon as they turn old, Balraj and Chiman indulge smuggling for survival.
Inspired by watching an English classic, Balraj becomes obsessed to become a ‘big-shot’ and this crazy aspiration of him is about to take him places. He also earns money by participating in street fights which he never wins. Just when Balraj is dreaming of becoming of bigshot, he sets eyes on Rosie (Anushka Sharma) who has an equally grave past and is new to the city where she is struggling, making up her livelihood singing in a Jazz club.
It is love at first sight for the Romeo and now he has only two dreams – becoming a bigshot and having Rosie in his arms. In an unexpected twist of fate, Balraj and Chiman meet Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar) who is a newspaper baron. It is Kaizad who gives wings to Balraj’s dreams and even names him Johnny. What follows is a twisted tale of greed, love, double-crossing and betrayals.
Based on Gyan Prakash’s book Mumbai Fables, Bombay Velvet paints a distinct picture of then Bombay. If the pictorials are any less, the film’s plot dealing with blackmail over negatives of photographs and newspaper editors giving orders of ‘stop press’ is enough to take you back to the bygone era. The first half of the film comes off quite strong and clear as we are introduced to Balraj and Rosie’s past.
The love story is taut and rarely do we find such writing when it comes to love affairs. There are no big comic elements in the film but indirect references to Karan Johar’s sexual preferences will certainly make you cough, especially the reason why he names Balraj as Johnny or also when he says ‘Rosie mein aisa kya hai jo mere paas nahi’. If the writers have a certain madness on Balraj’s character, on the other hand Rosie’s character is completely pity-some as she is more often than not been with dominating men who expect her to fulfill their demands. The first half seems lengthy but it is definitive of all the characters. The second half on the other hand gets too filmy. The dialogues are not particularly hard hitting and you may take only a few one liners home.
Anurag Kashyap is a true storyteller and this time he shows us a Gangs Of Wasseypur which is jazzed up with clubs, cigars, vintage cars and Tommy guns. Kashyap is successful in drawing us into this warped love story in the first half but loses his grip in the second. He tries to put too many characters and elements to an actually simplistic and cliched story and that is where the film lacks content wise. When it comes to the art direction, the film is top notch and in fact it could be termed as one of the best retro representations so far.
Ranbir Kapoor is impressive as the slightly mad and obsessive Johnny Balraj. His anger is scary and his love is extreme. Ranbir makes up for a convincing hero and in spite of him being a thug, there is still some naivety in his character that draws you towards him. Post Roy, I would definitely say Ranbir is back to being his best.
Anushka Sharma’s bee-stung lips actually get a meaning in this film. Other than looking sheer gorgeous, her attempt at playing Rosie the singer is praiseworthy. She lipsyncs Dhadam Dhadam with such intensity that you forget the fact that she is just lip-syncying.
Karan Johar makes his Bollywood debut with this film and well Kaizad Khambatta is high on the classy quotient. Karan surprises us with his cold-blooded streak as he munches on food whilst Balraj is being bashed in front of him. In one particular scene we see him break into an uncontrollable laugh and that scene will have you in splits too.
Satyadeep Misra as Chiman gives a terrific performance. He is impressive as the friend who sees the rise and fall of Balraj and sticks with him through thick and thin. Vivaan Shah as Tony, Rosie’s over smart driver is amazing. His body language is perfect and in that brief role, he leaves a mark. Manish Chaudhary too is remarkable as Jamshed/Jimmy Mistry, Kaizad’s competitor. The cigar smoking editor that he plays is strong but due to a convoluted plot, his motives remain slightly unclear. Amongst the strong supporting cast, Kay Kay Menon and Sidharth Basu are well refined in their roles.
Bombay Velvet is like imitation jewelry, it shines bright with its look and feels real, and performances but inside is a not-so-polished plot that is evident beyond all its pomp and jazz. So if you are a true Anurag Kashyap Fan, you may not like his commercial bend, but overall the film is worth a watch for is grandeur. Bombay Velvet is a visually enjoyable period drama. The love story is taut, chemistry is sizzling but thanks to an overstretched plot and a cliched second half, the film disappoints. I am going with a 3/5 for this film.