Of Velvet And Capitalism In Bombay: Because Fu*k It, Even A Bad AK Movie Is Good

Posted on May 18, 2015 in Media

By Abhishek Jha:

When the name of Anurag Kashyap’s Ranbir Kapoor starrer movie was revealed, it was evident that Bombay will be a protagonist in Bombay Velvet. But there isn’t anything novel about Bombay being Velvet, a metaphorical diminutive for the city of dreams. So what is? The velvet not being chintz. As was or is the wont of Bollywood movies, this velvet in Bollywood usually moulds to give the audience a cathartic experience. Kashyap doesn’t yield to that pressure.

bombay velvet

Isko Bolte Hain Bada Note– Balraj
In the centre of the movie is Balraj’s (Ranbir Kapoor) dream of becoming a “big shot”, of owning a property in his own name like his master Khambatta (Karan Johar). This dream is facilitated by the city itself, which gives the street fighter and his friend Chiman (Satyadeep Misra) a taste of big money when Balraj is hired to lose in “caged street fights”. Like the dream offered by capitalism everywhere, our man- who repeatedly ends up being only the muscle of a “big shot”- must believe that he has a fair shot at realising his dream. And sustaining this dream is necessary for our tiny capitalist world of Bombay. The trap is laid with Balraj’s first “bada note”.

Nadaan Zara Ek Baar, Qaidi Mera Bann Ke Dekh– Rosie
But the ultimate nightmare for a desire is to be fulfilled. It must reproduce itself. Bombay must find something, anything to keep Balraj ensnared. Luckily there is a Goan girl (Anushka Sharma) who in a desperate attempt at escaping the reality of her life (the reality being that she is just a prop to ease things up in Bombay’s market of dreams), kills her abusive patron and starts singing in a bar in Bombay. Johny meets Rosie in the bar and is immediately smitten. The titillation placed, the Bombay of the capitalist (Khambatta is referred explicitly in the movie to be a capitalist. Too bad for the movie) swings in to absorb an able labourer in its machine. To woo Rosie, Johny must find a bigger note, which further forces him to work as a puppet hit man for Khambatta.

Tum Kya Mila Sakte Ho, Johny? – Kaizad Khambatta
A cathartic experience would have meant that Balraj would learn the “desirable” mannerisms of his masters, and having checked everything on the list of qualifications, would become one of them. But what Johny wants is perpetually outside his “aukat” because of his place in the class hierarchy. In a meeting of all the big-shots, he asks to be included among them, immediately prompting the question- “What can you add, Johny”? Of course, he has only ever been the dogsbody of the business- a mere labourer- and he says so. This cannot possibly harm the status quo of those who own the business and they have no problem paying him for his labour as long as he keeps to his class and delivers what he is hired for with minimum fuss and maximum profit.

Poora Sheher Bik Jayega Rosie Agar Wo Negatives Nahi Mile To– Jimmy
As Johny’s desire reaches a fever pitch, the injunction for him to remain intact in his class becomes more and more explicit, to the extent that he- a “naukar aadmi”- is mocked for aspiring to become a partner. Let’s admit this. Whatever Johny does the Bombay way, within the capitalist structure, is only going to reinforce Velvet upon him. The only way Johny Balraj can realise his Bombay dream is by running away from it, the way his mother does quite early in the movie. The incendiary negative is Bombay’s only hope. Capitalism’s show stops only when its theatre burns down. Or else, it must go on.

There’s is no running away from the Velvet in Bombay. Anushka’s flickering acting and other shit aside, you- the viewer- would be naive to sit for 150 minutes and expect some curious turn of event, some twist and turn. There is no paisa-vasool there. Bombay’s’ capitalist spectacle, which is being universally lauded, is all there is to Bombay Velvet. There is nothing underneath it. Bombay Velvet is Bombay Velvet and that much at least Kashyap has ensured.