At one point in “Bombay Velvet”, Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma) is gripped by fear and self-doubt, and implores Johnny Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) to take her away from the city. But Balraj scoffs, saying what lies outside Bombay is “India”, and “India” is where starvation is.
Director Anurag Kashyap’s latest film is a partially successful attempt to bring out this difference between Bombay and India: the former is far more vibrant, but also more treacherous than the rest of the country even more than 50 years ago.
Two years after the British depart from India, Balraj arrives in Bombay from Pakistan as a little boy and grows up in a brothel. He is poor but fiercely ambitious. Rosie, a jazz singer from Goa, escapes to Bombay after suffering prolonged physical and sexual abuse.
Anushka Sharma in a still from “Bombay Velvet”Balraj and Rosie fall in love, but they become embroiled in a turf war over the control of land that involves much of the city’s top echelons. One of them is the suave and manipulative Kaizad Khambatta (Karan Johar).
Disparagingly branded a ‘capitalist’ by his friend-turned-nemesis Jamshed ‘Jimmy’ Mistry (Manish Choudhary), Khambatta wants private mill owners and industrialists to develop the city’s reclaimed land. Meanwhile, Mistry foments a campaign against them through his tabloid. While Khambatta ropes in Balraj to execute his murky plans, Mistry uses Rosie as a pawn to checkmate Balraj and through him Khambatta.
Kashyap doesn’t exactly break new ground with a hero who is willing to pay any price to make it big in life. We have seen that kind of plot often enough to know nothing good ever comes of a deal with the devil. Also, I heard a few viewers complain about the complicated and rushed plot. There are few women in “Bombay Velvet” and they are either shrewd and heartless or vulnerable and in constant need of rescue.
Yet, the factors that work in favour of “Bombay Velvet” outnumber those that do not. For one, Kashyap elicits fairly restrained performances from most of the cast. There are moments that could have significantly hurt the intelligence quotient of the film, chiefly the one that involves the reappearance of a major character as its own twin. But that is deftly rescued from spiralling into the realm of the bizarre.
Songs are usually a serious impediment to any film’s narrative, but they work well for “Bombay Velvet”. The music is well-composed and immaculately timed, nudging the story ahead or offering a hint of things to come. There are other smart touches too, like the stand-up comedian at the Bombay Velvet club, Khambatta’s hub of illegal activities. He cracks jokes on everything from the scramble for land to illegal consumption of alcohol, and the union politics of the day.
Some viewers might complain of an overdose of blood and gore, although I did enjoy the stylized gun-battle between a machine-gun wielding Ranbir and Khambatta’s henchmen. The ending feels clumsy and needlessly violent, with Kashyap trying to tie loose ends with a bare postscript before the final credits roll.
Among the cast, Kapoor steals the show. From the body language of a streetfighter to his dialogue and expressions, he gets most of being Balraj right. His only problem is that he cannot stop articulating his desire of becoming a big shot.
Anushka gets as substantial a role as possible for the female lead in a Hindi movie with an A-list hero. Siddhartha Basu and Kay Kay Menon are effective, but not particularly memorable in their respective roles of the corrupt city mayor and the sincere but low-ranked police officer. Nor is Satyadeep Mishra, who plays Balraj’s best friend Chiman Chopra. He is a little too flat and ends up being a bit of a bore with his deadpan looks and soporific dialogue delivery.
Karan Johar in a still from “Bombay Velvet”The weakest link is Karan Johar. His off-screen persona of a witty man with a penchant for self-deprecating humour makes it difficult to take his onscreen avatar as a cold-hearted murderer seriously.