Directed by: Anurag Kashyap
Most of what I’ve read about Bombay Velvet, whether it be reviews or Twitter buzz, is always heavily tainted with either love or hatred of director Anurag Kashyap. Most people write like he’s the saviour of Hindi cinema, because of his indie beginnings, and the way he refuses to make Bollywood films, in the Yashraj sense of the word. Other hate him for that exact same reason, because apparently he made comments about Bollywood cinema, but I don’t know what these were. I personally have no problem with Kashyap, nor am I really a massive fan. I liked Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1, though clearly not enough to go out of my way to watch Part 2, which I haven’t seen. I have seen various films with his name attached to as presenter or producer, but none of his other directorial work, so I’d like to think my opinion of Bombay Velvet is purely based on the film that it is. But I think that somehow has left me in the middle somewhere, neither loving nor hating it.
The film kicks off two years after Independence, when a young Balraj (who grows up to be Ranbir Kapoor) gets off a train in Mumbai, and it’s not long before he’s picking pockets and fighting to earn money to give to his adoptive mother-figure, who eventually runs away with enough gold that would have made him rich for life. He sees Rosie (Anushka Sharma) singing in a club one night, and decides he’ll make her his one way or another. He mistakenly tries to mug Khambatta (Karan Johar) at a bank one day, only for the rich newspaper editor to see right through him, and decide to take Balraj under his wing, and renames him Johnny.
That’s really only the beginning of the plot, but what follows just happens in the blandest of crime movies kind of way. Khambatta is involved in all sorts of bad political stuff, and uses Johnny as his hit man, and his rival his rival Jimmy Mistry uses Rosie and Johnny’s relationship to get dirt on Khambatta to bring him down. It’s not well thought out, if at all, and the writing does nothing to help the fact that there’s no real story. It is the perfect example of the style over substance cliché Bollywood critics use all the time. And there’s a lot of style, from Anushka Sharma’s club dresses, to the Bombay Velvet club set. The amount of money spent on the film shows, and is almost unnecessary. I don’t doubt that Kashyap could have made this same film on a smaller budget, and the result might have even been a better film just purely because of the scale. Although, having said that, most of what I enjoyed was the spectacle element, so maybe the cheaper version would have just been boring.
I’ve got to that point in the review where it sounds like I hated the film. I didn’t, I actually quite enjoyed myself. However that doesn’t always translate into having much positive to say about a film. Performances are good all around, Ranbir Kapoor especially, but it doesn’t feel like his film, which it definitely should have. And Karan a Johar definitely made the right decision to move into directing after making his debut as one of Shahrukh Khan’s friends in DDLJ. Interestingly, that might be one of the most viewed Bollywood film ever, given how long it’s been running, and yet they choose to give Karan an ‘introducing’ credit in the opening titles. What is that about?
Amit Trivedi’s music is easily the best part of the film, and Rosie singing her songs are the most watchable. Raveena Tandon makes two short appearances as another singer in the club, the first one opening the film with Aam Hindustani, which easily could have been played out in its entirety, but was sacrificed to give running time to the non-existent story. The only song sequence I take issue with is that Behroopia is quite oddly placed, and could have been used better. The money, and effort, and thought put into Rosie’s performances at the club highlight the lack of all that elsewhere.
There were stories in the lead up to release of the film that Martin Scorcese’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker,was brought on board, and she wanted to cut loads out, but also credited is Prerna Saigal (editor of The Lunchbox). I do wonder what the film would have looked like left in just Saigal’s hands, even if it was much longer. Even if it meant we just had more of the songs in it, people might hate the film a lot less. Unfortunately as Bombay Velvet stands now, it’s not the masterpiece some say it is, nor did I think it is the debacle others are calling it. It’s enjoyable, and not in anyway terrible, but doesn’t have a script worth, nor will it make back, the ridiculous amount of money spent on it.