It has taken me two days since I have watched the film to decide what I want to say about the film. You see, Bombay Velvet is the kind of movie that you put your hopes on but they end up being completely shattered. The movie is neither good nor bad, and that’s the dilemma. That and the fact that 500 words aren’t nearly enough to suffice the intricacies of this periodical thriller.
It will be futile reading this article first and then watching the movie. Too often our experience of a movie is marred by inane things like box office performance, critics, production banner, or our love/hate for the movie’s actors or the director. I knew beforehand that the movie had disappointed the audience and if I am being completely honest, that did shape the way I approached it.
Anurag Kashayap gets the Bombay of the late 1960’s just right. In what felt like a rendition of a Baz Lurhman type of movie, the grandiosity of Bombay’s jazz age has been beautifully depicted in the movie. And yet, that is about it. The movie is only a visual spectacle.
The actors stand out in their own right, especially the lead Ranbir Kapoor. Balraj, the protagonist, is ambitious. So seductive is his dream of becoming a ‘big shot’ in the fast developing city of Bombay, that he is willing to do anything to fulfil it. Rosie, the love interest of Balraj, is a jazz singer. Haunted by her brutal past, she comes to Bombay – the city of dreams. Kaizad Khambatta is a ruthless businessman who hires Balraj to do all of his dirty work. He appoints him to be the manager of his exclusive club ‘Bombay Velvet’. The story is set against the burgeoning Bombay cityscape; the lives struggling to keep up with demands of a fast growing cosmopolitan. The theme of ambition, competition, and capitalism is intertwined with that of romance and friendship in a consciously stylized narrative.
The city of Bombay is enticing, for Balraj it is like a birthday cake. He understands the power game that is on among his bosses for the land of Bombay, each wanting a slice of the birthday cake. Call it naiveté or foolishness; he forgets that he is a mere henchman. So naturally when Balraj approaches his boss for a piece of the cake, he is laughed at and dismissed. Balraj may have come a long way from being a petty thief to a part of the urban elite, but he’s still not and will never be Khambatta’s equal. The transformation has been easy but he’s far from being a ‘big shot’.
What is disappointing, because everything else is on point, is that the story is not captivating. It is dull at parts, but enthralling at others. You don’t root for any of the characters, not even Balraj. You know he has sinned and aren’t ready to forgive him. So stylized is the film that it takes precedence over any real emotion. The movie leaves you feeling nothing, the story somehow feels unresolved.
The fact that Oscar award winner Thelma Schoonmaker is the editor, also doesn’t contribute much to the movie. There are too many plot lines, which confuses the bigger story. The romance between Balraj and Rosie isn’t allowed to reach its full potential. In an effort to be noir and classy, the narrative is far too stretched.
This could have been a great movie. It is not the ‘narrative’ that is the problem; it was the lack of catharsis that went against the movie. Bombay Velvet looks pretty, has pretty faces and pretty lights, but the sad truth is that there is hardly any emotional substance to it.
It has disappointed more so because it didn’t live up to the hype of coming from a big production company. Because a movie like Piku didn’t have the same expectation, it surprised everyone when it did remarkably well. Ultimately, Bombay Velvet is not a completely bad movie. It is a result of unrealistic expectations and the industry’s obsession with making money rather than art.