Review: Bombay Velvet

Bombay Velvet (Dir.: Anurag Kashyap; Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Karan Johar, Siddhartha Basu, Anushka Sharma et al.)

Anurag Kashyap’s mainstream debut is a mixed bag for his admirers. I am an admirer of the director myself, but I suppose my high expectations played spoilsport with my experience of Bombay Velvet.

Bombay Velvet lacks Anurag Kashyap’s trademark humour which makes even his dark pieces entertaining and enjoyable, lending a perspective to the incidents. Adding to the lack of humour, a couple of key plot points, like an overheard conversation on a phone call, are too cliched to be expected in Anurag Kashyap pieces. However, despite these shortcomings, Bombay Velvet is a good watch, thanks to the characters, the music and the construction of drama.

(Possible spoiler in next para!)

Kashyap’s deep love and respect for films (and their influence) comes through in how characters, their actions and their lives are inspired by the films they watch. Ranbir Kapoor’s Johnny Balraj suffers from what was described in Shantaram as the “hero curse”: he is a nobody in Bombay aspiring to be a big shot like in a film he watches with his friend. In this pursuit, he brings doom upon himself and his loved ones. This is essentially the one-line summary of the story. But Kashyap’s stories are more about the journey than the destination and that holds true here as well.

Balraj as a character isn’t as colourful as Sardar Khan or his son Faisal (from Gangs of Wasseypur, arguably Kashyap’s finest till date), perhaps the demands of mainstream necessitating a compromise. But Ranbir Kapoor’s skillful performance makes his character not only credible but endearing too. Satyadeep Misra as his friend/ sidekick does very well – his stares rivet your eyes to him multiple times in crunch scenes. Anushka Sharma does well in parts but somehow there’s the feeling that she could have leveraged this opportunity a lot better to create some distance with her competition for the top spot. She is quite good lip-synching, emoting and performing the songs as Rosie but only thereabouts in the rest of her scenes. Kay Kay Menon is terrific in his cameo and one hopes he had more screen time in the 2.5 hour film. Speaking of characters and players, the last word must be reserved for Karan Johar, undoubtedly the “find” of the film. It takes imagination to pull off brilliant casting as these and Kashyap’s biggest contribution in Bombay Velvet might well be introducing Johar in a key role. In fact, the best two oddly comic sequences of the film are both centred around him. Johar brings out the influential business/ publishing tycoon Kaizad Khambatta deliciously well. Here is the old-school villain – suave, ruthless, charming, unscrupulous and with lovely lines too.

Music is the second most attractive aspect of the film. Though I am no expert on the subject, Amit Trivedi’s “Hindi jazz” works, not only in being great to the ears but also effectively creating the oscillating moods of the protagonists and the age and times in which the story is set: “Dhadaam Dhadaam” and the drum-rolls before a climax action sequence being perfect cases in point. The ethics of it all can be debated, but Kashyap continues to paint violence and gunfire set-pieces with exquisite beauty.

Verdict: If you have loved Kashyap’s earlier works or enjoy watching Ranbir in action, don’t miss it (but temper your expectations beforehand!). If the above don’t apply, you might still consider trying it just for Karan Johar’s dramatics and the music 🙂

P.S.: While Bombay Velvet is expectedly reminiscent of gangster classics in scenes and settings (the hiding place of a weapon is a clear nod to the greatest of them all), what struck me as more interesting is a scene where Balraj talks to his friend about his dreams and aspirations – it reminded me of a similar iconic (and a personal favourite) scene from Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (The World of Apu). The stark contrast between the protagonists of the two pieces made the uncanny similarity most interesting. Equally interesting is the choice of the name of Khambatta’s rival newspaper!

Bombay Velvet IMDb Page

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