Well, before we dwell upon the good, bad and ugly aspect of it, I’d like to draw an analogy between filmmakers and magicians. Just like magicians, filmmakers create a world of their own, which can sometimes be Calcutta of the 50s inhabiting Byomkesh Bakshy or 60s breeding Johny Balraj.
Hence, it would be quite befitting (and intriguing) to link this ‘review’ with a dialogue of Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Prestige’ (Despite there being no connection between the two films), of every magic trick consisting of three parts or acts –‘The Pledge’, ‘The Turn’ and ‘The Prestige’ – quoted in 3 parts here, to put things in perspective:
“The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, and normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.”
Bombay Velvet surely garnered enough curiosity, with those flashy promos, hoardings and songs screaming RETRO in every frame, every song. Switch on the TV and you’ll spot close-ups of a pair of duck-lips crooning Mohabbat buri beemari, making you wonder whether Anurag Kashyap is taking the retro disaster ‘Xposé’ route starring Himesh Reshammiya, Irrfan Khan and Yo Yo Honey Singh.
Thankfully, the film is beyond elaborately designed costumes and painstakingly recreated locations of the yore. Mumbai looks Bombay in this 2 hour 33 minute film. The magician i.e. director shows us ordinary objects of daily life that convince us we’re in the 60s of Bombay, with a confidence that challenges us to inspect and spot anything that belongs to our age. You won’t find any.
So ‘The Pledge’ part is where Bombay Velvet wins hands down, right from those ‘look at this matchbox from 60s’ way of lighting up cigarettes or the trams, wide angle view of Bombay, costumes, vintage cars, tea cups, well-written dialogues (Paanch saal ki gaaruntee – those days companies offered five-year guarantee on their products unlike today’s times), jazz bars, singers and music – an indeed commendable work by Amit Trivedi, who also makes a blink-and-you-miss appearance in the film.
“The second act is called ‘The Turn’. The magician takes something ordinary and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”
‘The Turn’ here is Bombay Velvet’s story. Director Anurag Kashyap picks up an ordinary Bollywood Masala potboiler story and makes it do something extraordinary. He throws a rags-to-riches story of a young guy Balraj, later rechristened as ‘Johny Balraj’ by Kaizad Khambata ably played by Karan Johar.
Johny Balraj dreams of becoming a big shot (Inspired while watching ‘The Roaring Twenties’ starring James Cagney), along with his friend Chimman played to perfection by Satyadeep Misra. Kaizad Khambata takes them under his wings (done to death, right from Satya to Kill Dil) and manipulates their naivety and hunger for success.
The film’s ‘Turn’ or rather story hinges upon a photograph’s negative – a bold move on the part of director showing a man groping a woman’s bust, which almost becomes a leitmotif of the film, reprising quite often till the second half. This exaggerated ‘negative kahan hai’ wala angle, apart from the ‘twin sister’ twist forms the most part of Bombay Velvet’s story, which clearly spells doom for the film’s story.
Well, like any good ‘Turn’, ‘You were looking for the secret…but you won’t find it, because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled’. So Anurag Kashyap and his gang of writers, Vasan Bala, Thani, and Gyan Prakash (Author of ‘Mumbai Fables’, a book that chronicles the history of Mumbai and on which the film Bombay Velvet is based upon), choose to do just that – focus on the sizzle, rather than the steak. As long as the frames are jazzed up –who’s complaining! That’s what you came to watch, isn’t it? You want to get fooled and are royally being done so.
Ranbir Kapoor as Johny Balraj puts up an awe-inspiring performance, which is easily one of his best, despite the poor writing. In a way, his friend, Chimman’s character often overshadows him, when it comes to clarity of thoughts and motive behind actions. The actions, as well as reactions of Johny Balraj appear completely random. One moment he exhibits a Robert De Nirosque confidence and the other he exudes Chaplinistic charm. This pendulum shift is never consistent, which in a way works for the film purely because unlike the screenplay, his character is at least unpredictable.
Anushka Sharma is the biggest oddball in the film. Right from the Fifi song (Almost the entire auditorium was in splits, making digs at her awkward looks, bad lip job and unintentionally funny expressions). She is a complete disaster in this film. Neither the grand costumes nor hairdos inspired by Helen, Sadhana, or Babita work for her. She plays Anushka Sharma, just the way she does in her every film. Furthermore, there is a complete lack of chemistry between the lead pair, which is a pity because as an audience you never root for any character and end up admiring the backdrop of 60s.
The best thing about Bombay Velvet is Karan Johar. Kudos to Anurag Kashyap to ‘introduce’ us an actor who knows his craft so well that you believe he is Kaizad Khambata, not a celebrated filmmaker and talk show host. There are two scenes in the film where Karan Johar steals the show (The only two best scenes of the film), which I’d rather leave on you to figure out. The climax, however, plays truant to his well-established character. Actors like KK Menon, Manish Choudhary, Remo Fernandez, and Siddhartha Basu make their presence felt despite brief roles.
“But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.
So, does Bombay Velvet actually bring back the glory of Anurag Kashyap’s stamp of storytelling – something he made disappear amid all that jazz, right from the first frame of Bombay Velvet with Raveena Tandon (ravishingly beautiful, so much so that you wish she’d played the lead) crooning ‘Aam Hindustani’.
The film is stylishly shot by Rajeev Ravi and slickly edited by Prerna Saigal and Thelma Schoonmaker. You just can’t help admiring the way shots have been juxtaposed to each other at key moments of the film – a style consistently maintained right from the opening frames. The magic works all throughout but alas, the only place where Bombay Velvet lets you down is the writing.
The ‘magic’ that Anurag Kashyap had in his stories is ‘made to disappear’ here, and the magician just can’t bring it back till the end credits roll. Guess that’s why they call it the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’.