Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar, Kay Kay Menon, Manish Choudhary, Satyadeep Misra
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Runtime: 149 min.
Verdict: Probably the most interesting of Mr. Kashyap’s films.
Genre: Drama, Romance, Mystery
The thing that fascinated me most about the world of Bombay Velvet was the narrativization of spaces, and unlike say Deewar, where the building Vijay buys is some sort of a personal controlling-my-destiny statement, Mr. Kashyap’s places mostly seem to suggest that the urban spaces around us are but one of the tools via which capitalism seduces us all. If we were look back till the beginning of the 20th century, our great cities – New York, Paris, London – were probably built brick for brick over a span of several years with individual entities – buildings, bridges, parks, shops and so on and so forth – collectively creating an identity. An identity for which, in the age of modernization, say since the beginning of the 20th century, no state and no establishment has neither the patience for nor the resources for. An urban space is now a template, a readily available product that needs to be replicated wherever deemed fit. Our movies, where capitalist villains in Bombay would always want to erect tall buildings by wiping out slums, reduced this equation of urbanization to a blunt interplay between the rich and the poor. Which it is, but rather than rape, it is probably more of a seduction.
So for starters Bombay Velvet is the story of the city if Ramadhir Singh (Gangs of Wasseypur) were asked to tell one. Mr. Kashyap establishes the two dreamers – Balraj (Mr. Kapoor) and Rosie (Ms. Sharma) – rather clumsily (he absolutely needs to get rid of the cinema image shot, and so should every filmmaker), but the strictly workmanlike cross-cutting between their origin stories curiously felt poetic. Rosie’s even felt intriguing, for a woman readily letting go of her “morals” is ripe enough to graduate into a femme fatale, and her stone-cold silence even tempted me to shrug and classify her under the same category of some of Mr. Kashyap’s other women (for e.g. Durga in Gangs of Wasseypur) – bitch. Thankfully, Ms. Sharma’s whale of a performance, especially her wallowing in Dhadaam Dhadaam, lends the kind of grace Mr. Kashyap’s women almost always seem to lack. For a quite while during the initial half she had me guessing about her intentions.
The dreamers tend to become stand-ins for somebody like me, who’s having a bit of an identity crisis. The whole deal with Balraj and his guardians and what seemed like attempts to walk as far away from all of it as possible had a decent conversation with me, so much so that I chose to ignore all the repression around the fights and the pseudo-Scorsese-male behavior. I mean, it is natural isn’t it, to choose different strands from an artwork than what everybody else has focused and analyzed upon, for what it is readily there to digest is hardly interesting. So coming back, having the two dreamers the principal actors in Bombay Velvet (the club) and having it become the place-to-be for all enthusiastic dreamers makes it a crucible in which capitalists can shape the spaces for future Bombay. You see, it is one thing to erect several buildings and it is another thing to sell Manhattan. Cinema, much like tourism, is after all an agent for us consumers.
What else did I like? I mean, considering the film is universally panned, I was quite surprised for this is a decent film with quite a lot to chew upon. Like for instance, the arc Chimman (Mr. Misra) is provided with. In films like Public Enemies, where the friend (Red Hamilton played by Mr. Jason Clarke) is all too loyal and dutifully dies, Mr. Kashyap kind of provides a signature weight to his death, in the process completely trivializing the protagonist. But then, if we’re to speak of structural integrity, that trivialization and the moving final shot, of Rosie looking at the dead Johnny (reminding me of Ms. Cotillard’s final moment in Public Enemies) do not necessarily belong in the same picture.So yes, a film wanting to be a hardboiled crime movie in the mold of L.A.Confidential, Mr. Kashyap’s films is far too frivolous. I might be tempted to invoke the Thelma Schoonmaker argument, but I would rather want to indulge myself with the whole deal around Rosie’s resurrection via her sister? Assuming that it is a complete joke of the WTF kind, you got to ask yourself this question – is the film laughing with you, or are laughing alone? I don’t know, but the utter ease and downright insignificance that is attached to her re-introduction – in the graveyard scene, it is not her making the entry but Johnny – makes me really curious. Why have that? It was ridiculously funny, but why? And if you had to have it, why not go all the way and have her sing at the club again and nobody ask any questions. That would have been real bizarre.