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Set against the backdrop of ambition, love, greed, and jazz - Bombay Velvet is the story of one ordinary man who goes against all odds and forges his destiny to become a 'Big Shot'. Jazz clubs, a passionate love story, a growing metropolis and a phenomenal hunger for a good life. Welcome to the City of Dreams. Welcome to Bombay Velvet.Written by
A Potpourri of Vestiges Review: Anurag Kashyap's sprawling period piece with an excess of style over substance.
Bombay Velvet, with a whopping budged of INR 80 crore (800 million), marks a departure for Kashyap who over the last decade has succeeded in carving a niche for himself in Hindi cinema with low budget, highly unconventional and genre-transcending films like Dev D, Gulaal, and Gangs of Wasseypur. Based on historian Gyan Prakash's book "Mumbai Fables," Bombay Velvet stars Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar, Kay Kay Menon, and Manish Chaudhary in major roles. The movie presents the larger-than-life tale of a small-time but ambitious gangster Johnny Balraj, who would stop at nothing in a bid to realize his dream of becoming a "big shot" in the elite social circles of the 1960s Bombay, and his lady-love Rosieâ"an aspiring Jazz singer with a heart of gold.
While it would be a bit far-fetched to describe Bombay Velvet as a cinematic success, it would also be unfair to deem it a failure. Yes, it's a mess of a film but a mess that's way more alluring than the trash that Bollywood churns out day in and day out. Then why complain? Well, because we expect better from Kashyap! This critic for one is devastated by the very thought of what it could have been had a filmmaker of Kashyap's caliber brought his a-game to the table. Kashyap's love for cinema and his ear for music are praiseworthy. The tone of Bombay Velvet is set from the word go: it opens up with some stock footage showing the early days of the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) which is immediately followed a jazz number featuring Raveena Tandon donning the '60s retro look. In the view of this critic, the movie touches it highest point during the early scene that shows a young Rosie, in Goa, hum a melodious song in Portuguese. The combined effect of the very song and the mystical background music (reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films) created a sense of magic for a few fleeting moments that, alas, couldn't be recreated in the latter scenes.
Bombay Velvet features several exceptional shots but there are as many bad ones as well. Perhaps, Kashyap seems to have forgotten about the legendary American filmmaker Howard Hawks' saying that "a good movie is three good shots and no bad ones." In order to truly appreciate Bombay Velvet, one needs to be madly in love with movies, for it pays endless tributes to yesteryear films and stars with Film Noir and Classic Hollywood influences abound. Kashyap's fascination for all things cinema is evident in each and every frame.
Ranbir Kapoor looks daring and a bit over-the-top as Johnny Balraj. But, if it were Cagney he was trying to imitate then he certainly got it spot on. Of all the actors from the Hollywood's golden age, Cagney is the most unique mainly because of his over-the-top acting style. It's something that the great Stanley Kubrick took a note of when he made Jack Nicholson essay the role of Jack Torrance in his psychological horror masterpiece The Shining (1980). It certainly caught Kashyap's attention as well. Anushka Sharma is a natural when it comes to playing bold feministic roles and in Bombay Velvet she plays a jazz singer to a tee (she seems to have perfected the act of lip syncing). As Rosie she is a treat for the sore eyes and those responsible for her wardrobe certainly need to be commended. While Karan Johar's menacing portrayal of the business magnate Kaizad Khambatta is the movie's real highlight, Kay Kay Menon is solid as ever in the role of a no-nonsense cop.
Overall, Bombay Velvet is a sprawling period piece with an excess of style over substance. The film suffers from poor market segmentation and targeting for it may prove to be a bit too overwhelming for the masses and at the same time the aficionados may not find it too appealing to their palates, despite all its merits. The movie captures the period detail with painstaking accuracy. Kashyap's morbid obsession for the grotesque and the macabre just doesn't seem to let go of him. The movie gives us glimpses of the evolution of Bombay into the financial capital it is today and the scandalous roles bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen played in shaping up its map. Bombay Velvet is far from being a quintessential Anurag Kashyap but given its commercial scope it will certainly be able to reach a wider audience than most Kashyap films. The music, sets and costumes ooze with a hitherto unattained degree of resplendence, especially in the context of India cinema. Bombay Velvet is not an easy film to appreciate for the masses, mainly because of its excesses. It would take a die-hard cinema enthusiast to truly enjoy it. The movie is quite high on violence quotient and those with weak hearts would find certain sequences quite disturbing. Nonetheless, as a mere exercise in style, Bombay Velvet is a commendable attempt but its prospects at the box office appear to be rather bleak. Recommended only for cinema enthusiasts!
(This review was first published at A Potpourri of Vestiges)
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