Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bombay Velvet 

Rough Patch

A great deal of effort has gone into the making of Bombay Velvet—recreating 1960s Mumbai in Sri Lanka; the sets, costumes, props, period details mostly immaculate.  Anurag Kashyap knows the importance of design, cinematography, sound, music and promotion, so his films are always packaged and presented well. If only he could drop his gangster fetish and ambition to be the Indian Martin Scorsese, he might be able to realize his true potential.

Bombay Velvet, based on Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables (he also co-wrote the script) starts just after Independence and spans twenty years—the years that transformed Bombay (as a character says). The tumultuous Sixties were the period of Prohibition, the real estate boom, unionism, mill workers’ strife, the beginnings of the Mumbai mafia and corruption of the system.

In this simmering cauldron Johnny Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) grows up in a brothel, turns to petty crime and street fighting and dreams of becoming a “big shot”; Rosie (Anushka Sharma) escapes an exploitative relationship and ends up in singing in a seedy bar, where tabloid boss Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) finds and claims her.

Johnny and his friend/sidekick Chiman (Satyadeep) Mishra) are taken under the wing of rival tabloid baron and wheeler-dealer Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar), who uses them as a front to run his night club Bombay Velvet.  Jimmy sends Rosie to spy on Johnny and steal an all-important photo negative (a very clumsy plot device), but he pompously declares “Meri hai” and she genuinely falls in love with him.

As the rather tepid love story pans out, in the background, there is talk of the development of Nariman Point and building the World Trade Centre which involved massive corruption and the silencing of the protests by mill workers. All this would barely interest Mumbai residents, people outside the city, not at all;  Kashyap is so tied up with the look (spectacular) and sound (brilliant) of the film, that everything else takes a backseat. Sadly, the central character, Johnny, turns out to be wishy-washy and not one the viewer cares about.  (Now compare with Vijay in Deewar and see how good writing is more important than technique.) Ranbir Kapoor is all energy, bravado and leer, but to no avail.  Anushka Sharma’s wardrobe and styling are more impressive than her stereotypical singer-moll part. 
The romance is without passion and the political string-pulling insipid. Good performances by the intense Satyadeep Misra, the stuffy Manish Chaudhary, Kay Kay Menon (as a cop), are wasted.  Karan Johar is a revelation as the slimy Khambatta—in the film’s only funny scene, when Johnny says something stupid, he leaves the room, and has a fit of giggles.

The film could do with a lot more character development, tension and some humour, since the show-offy technique by itself accomplishes little.


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