Reviews

Bombay Velvet – Setting trumps story in a great-looking tribute to film noir

Despite pacing issues, the film stands true to an indie filmmaker’s idea of a blockbuster.  

Early on in Bombay Velvet, there’s a scene where Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) dreams of becoming a ‘Big Shot’ after watching James Cagney in the arms of Priscilla Lane in the climax of The Roaring 20’s. Later on, Balraj enters a caged street fight against a stronger opponent. With each blow, we see Balraj’s smirk widen. He’s losing the battle but he seems to be enjoying himself. Never before have I seen a Bollywood hero revelling in cathartic bliss after being beaten to pulp. After the fight, he tells his friend that the pain helps him forget his mother (a prostitute who runs away with his loot) and, consequently, his past. Bombay Velvet is the love story of a masochist.



Set in late 60’s Bombay, this Anurag Kashyap love story is a tribute to classic film noir, which, by definition, is limited to a set of plots, props and recurring clichés. What this has done is liberate Kashyap from making a film restricted by plot, making the Bombay setting as much a protagonist as Balraj. This Bombay we talk of is in a 20-year-old India where Englishmen have been replaced by English-speaking Indians -- a kind of scotch-sipping, jazz-bar-frequenting elite, whose pastimes include betting on horses at derbies.





Director: Anurag Kashyap
Genre: Crime drama
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar
Music: Varshan
Storyline: A street dog dreams of becoming a Bombay big shot.
Befittingly, it is during one of these derbies that Balraj is rechristened ‘Johny’ Balraj by Kaizad Khambatta (a chilling Karan Johar, especially in the scene where he nonchalantly offers his wife for personal gains) just a few moments after he’s mistaken for a servant. For Balraj, Kaizad is a one way ticket to becoming an insider, one of the elite, a big shot. As for Kaizad, Balraj is a priced racehorse on which he stands to gain handsomely.



Johny Balraj’s association as Kaizad’s dirty right hand leads him to riches to the point where he runs Bombay Velvet, the city’s hottest Jazz bar, drives his own Ford Falcon and dates club singer Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma). The moments where Johny falls for Rosie form the film’s most tender (a word used interestingly in the film) and vulnerable portions.



Ironically, Rosie too is a mere pawn in the hands of Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudary), the owner of Glitz, a left-leaning tabloid, ideologically opposite to Kambatta’s Torrent. United by their fight against those who use them, the couple decide to stay on rather than escape Bombay for normalcy. When Rosie proposes a life outside of Bombay, Johny tells her that outside Bombay is a place called India…filled with poor people, a place where he will never be big shot. Given that Johny Balraj derives pleasure from pain, even his idea of a happy ending is perhaps far from that of regular Bollywood cinema. In a way, he does get his happy ending then.



In one of the most spectacular-looking Hindi films in recent times, Kashyap transports us effortlessly to a different age and time. Scenes like the phone call between Kaizad Khambatta and Johny Balraj, where they speak nothing, is signature Anurag Kashyap, and so is the idea of a single photograph deciding the fate of a city. Despite pacing issues, the tendency to overstate the obvious and an inconsequential Tommy gun shootout, the film stands true to an indie filmmaker’s idea of a blockbuster. The film is every cinematic cliché and so much more. It is every crime movie you have already seen but so much more.



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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 11:45:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/cinema-reviews/bombayvelvet-setting-trumps-story-in-a-greatlooking-tribute-to-film/article7211838.ece

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