So we have another Phantom production with the man known to be the modern day icon for realistic cinema… Anurag Kashyap, presenting his magnum opus…. Bombay Velvet.
Starting in 1949 Bombay, this is the story of a young tot, Balraj who arrives from Sialkot, to be raised in a brothel, where he learns the value of money and earns his friendship with Chiman.
Somewhere in Portuguese occupied Goa, a young Rosie, is picked from a choir by a music scout wanting to train her. This turns out to be the first abusive relationship of her life.
In 1960, all have grown up into Ranbir Kapoor, Satyadeep Mishra & Anushka Sharma respectively. Now the film is about Ranbir’s journey from Balraj to Johnny Balraj, leading him to meet Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar), Mayor Romi Patel (Siddartha Basu), Journalist Jimmy Mistry (Manish Chaudhari), Inspector Vishwas Kulkarni (Kay Kay Menon) and Rosie.
Inspired by James Ellroy’s novels, the film definitely will remind you of Jack Nicholson’s China Town, rather than L.A. Confidential. This according to me summarizes it all. I felt a sense of emptiness after China Town, something which didn’t allow me to get connected with the film, unlike L.A. Confidential, wherein you felt yourself rooting for the underdog cop played by Russel Crowe.
Likewise, you see the movie moving from one point to another, with the single point agenda of Balraj wanting to be a ‘big shot’. But somehow never once does the film engage you as a viewer, to make you want that for him. A set of individually inspired performances somehow doesn’t add up to a riveting plot, leading you to feel as if you were watching a documentary in the history of Bombay in the 60s, dispassionately.
The film does get full marks on its production values. The entire period feel recreated in Sri Lanka, wonder why N.D. Studio in Karjat couldn’t suffice, is first rate. Coupled with the cinematography by Rajeev Ravi, the camera angles are as natural as one can be. So be it following Vivaan’s car in the bustling city, the climax shot or the off centre close ups. One such brilliantly shot scene is the telephone conversation between Khambatta and Johnny.
The film is let down by its screenplay and editing. It just drags on and on till you breathe a sigh of relief, only to realise it was the interval point. Post that, the film does pick up some speed, but all in vain. This 151 minute long project just tends to become another of Kashyap’s creative indulgence to show his friends Martin Scorsese & Danny Boyle (whom he thanks in the beginning), his version of The Great Gatsby.
Vivaan Shah does a fantastic job as the driver Tony, but hardly has any significance to the plot. Likewise Siddartha Basu hardly has anything to do pre interval, a place where Manish Chaudhari finds himself post. Kay Kay is wasted, literally topi pehnaaya.
Satyadeep Mishra gives an excellent Chiman, but somehow gets his voice too late in the film. Anushka has shown in NH10 recently that she is a terrific actress, but barring the Dhadam Dhadam & Iffi song, she hardly gets any scope to show that. Just imagine.
Karan Johar is delightful in what can be said a cameo of a debut as the main villain. But he steals your heart in that 1 scene where he walks out of the room to laugh his guts out. Ranbir is excellent as the wannabe handyman, trying to make his place under the sun, but somehow his journey seems too pat. And it is only the writing to be blamed for it.
So we come to the man in the spotlight. Anurag lets us down as writer and Director. As the master and commander, he doesn’t manage to add up all his individual ingredients for that elusive masterpiece. Amit Trivedi’s jazz laden music for example, not once leaves us humming any number, either during or after the film. Even the climax doesn’t pain you, since the entire movie has pained you enough. This is where he goes wrong. The soul of the film, which should have been the story, becomes the production value and visually appealing shots.
This is where Byomkesh Bakshi scored. Inspite of being a period film and a more verbose concept, it got you connected with its characters, unlike here, where you only feel so with the similarly lit EXIT SIGN, just like the title.
Alas, what a wasted opportunity, yet again.
By: Yusuf Poonawala