‘Bombay Velvet’, based on Gyan Prakash’s non-fiction book ‘Mumbai Fables’, is touted to be the most ambitious project helmed by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. The release of the film marks the realisation of Anurag’s ten year old dream. The period drama went through several changes in the cast but with a studio (Fox Stat Studio) backing it and a leading star (Ranbir Kapoor) agreeing to be a part of it, everything fell into place. Though the film depicts the Mumbai (then, Bombay) of the 60s, it has been shot in Sri Lanka as the country provided better financial incentives. So, did Anurag Kashyap and his team manage to recreate the bygone era effectively while weaving a romantic drama around it?
The year is 1949. As a result of the post-partition riots, a young Balraj (Master Yash Sehgal) flees Sialkot and arrives in Bombay. Balraj finds a friend in Chiman (Master Sidharth Thakur) and they both go about robbing people off their pockets. They grow up doing while participating in various activities. Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) is ambitious and after watching the Hollywood classic ‘The Roaring Twenties’, he decides to become a ‘big shot’ in the world of crime. An encounter with businessman Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar) sets the ball rolling for him. Balraj, now rechristened as Johnny, and Chiman (Satyadeep Mishra) start working for Khambatta. Khambatta makes Johnny the owner of his club ‘Bombay Velvet’ and promises to do a lot more for him. Jimmi Mistry (Manish Chaudhry) gets club singer Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma) to work in the club so that she could lay her hands on a negative that could help him in some way. Rosie is a very vulnerable girl who had had a troubled childhood. Johnny is smitten by Rosie and soon Rosie, too, falls in love with him. Johnny’s ambition and the fact that both of them have robbed a lot of people the wrong way ensure that their love story does not tread along a smooth path.
The major issue with Bombay Velvet is that the screenplay comes across as disjointed. The film take a long time to come to the point and moves aimlessly at several points. There are many scenes, more particularly, in the first half that serve no real purpose and bore endlessly. The sub-plots pop up and wither away without creating any impact. The audience is fed with too much information with a lot of them not registering any impact whatsoever. There are several points in which one expects the drama to reach its peak but it fizzles out soon after.
The love story works very well and much of the credit, for that, should go to the lead pair. The chemistry between Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma is piping hot. The two actors infuse the love story with a tremendous amount of passion. Watch out for that scene in which they fight like kids. The second half of the film is much stronger and coherent than the first hour. There are several intense moments that keep you engrossed in the proceedings. The pace is swift and the drama makes an impact. The twists and turns, though routine, are engaging. The jazz based songs are almost like a character in the film as they help in propelling the film forward.
Anurag and co-writers have done a lot of research on the Mumbai of the 60s and it shows. They pepper several real life references to their fictional screenplay. Even though they take the viewers to a forgotten and unseen by many, world of the 60s, the basic storyline is full of clichés that work at some points and fails to create the desired impact at others. Anurag Kashyap’s direction is top notch. He makes a visually appealing film that looks stunning from the first frame to the last. The film looks beautiful, no doubt. He gets fantastic support from Rajeev Ravi who puts several lighting techniques to good use and shoots the film very well. Amit Trivedi’s music, soaked in jazz, works both sonically as well as with the context of the film. The “Dhadam Dhadam” song has been imaginatively picturised and is one of the high points of the film. The background score, composed by him, is excellent and stands out for “The Bombay Velvet Theme” which is played several times in the film. The choreography (Ashley Lobo) is wonderful and captures the grace of the club singers of the 60s. Sameer Sawant (art direction) and Sonal Sawant (production design) do a splendid job with recreating a bygone era. The editing (Prerna Saigal and Thelma Schoonmaker) is not up to the mark. The first half could have been shorter and the pace of the film as a whole could have been swifter.
Ranbir Kapoor delivers a masterful performance as a street goon whose life takes a dangerous turn because of his staggeringly high ambitions. The actor gets to portray a range of emotions and he does complete justice to each of them. Anushka Sharma brings to the fore the vulnerability of Rosie effectively and is graceful as a club singer. Though she does not have as many dialogues as Ranbir has, she gets to narrate several incidents and bring out several emotions as she sings (read: lip syncs to) songs that take the story forward. Karan Johar makes a very confident debut (nit taking in to account the cameos he has played in several films) as an actor. He plays a well written character with aplomb. The scene in which he excuses himself out of a room to control is laughter is remarkable. Kay Kay Menon is terrific as always but his role does not demand much. Satyadeep Mishra pulls off a very sincere performance as Johnny’s friend and confidante. The characters played by Manish Chaudhari and Siddharth Basu showed a lot of promise but came across as half baked. Remo Fernandez is good in a brief role. Raveena Tandon’s cameo is far from being impactful.
Bombay Velvet might be Anurag Kashyap’s most ambitious film till date but it is far from being his best film. With Kashyap at the helm of affairs, an impressive line-up of actors, a lavish scale and a trip the Mumbai of the 60s, one had expected a masterpiece here. Though the film falls short of expectations, it cannot be dismissed either.
Anish Mohanty tweets @anishmohanty