Bombay Velvet – The Machismo of an Ordinary Man’s Naive Dreams (or the Many Themes Of a Potentially Great Film Which The So Called Indian Film Critics Regularly Miss in Their Reviews)

Spoilers Ahead. BombayVelvet-poster-3

 

The thing about ordinary men is that given a chance they can have whatever they wanted, but not what they dreamed. And within those two confusing phrases and fight for understanding the difference lies a certain machismo, an innocence and probably even a sense of masochism. Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, apparently inspired from Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables, is the journey of one such man – with dreams of making it as a big shot and his fight to understand the difference mentioned above.

Balraj (a terrific Ranbir Kapoor) arrives as a kid to post Indian independence Mumbai, where survival kills conscience, money made via corruption and crime, dreams built on celluloid and tabloids, and life enjoyed in luxury restaurants with jazz music and whatever is in between is easily passable, forgotten or rotten. When Balraj sees Rosie (charmingly done by Anushka Sharma), a struggling singer trying to make it big in Mumbai, he immediately connects to her – both are frightened but spirited. And for the first time in his life Balraj’s dreams begin to get the best of him, especially when he sees that Rosie is what even a self-righteous and rich communist Jimi Mistry (Manish Chaudhary) desires.

It is from here that Bombay Velvet evokes themes that only few Indian films like Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (I can’t remember any other movie) could dare to. And Anurag Kashyap is up to his job not just in amazingly raising the lowly Indian film’s VFX standards by recreating a retro Mumbai, but also as a master story-teller who knows exactly when and where to work on his themes, and when to mix them into the story. (He definitely faces problems as to when to leave the story reveal itself. Mostly, my doubt is because he gives the reigns of editing to a non-Hindi speaking editor, she kind-of undoes the film, despite her genius, fame and resume.)

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It is no surprise then that Balraj tries to force himself through the ranks with plain masochism for life’s severe blows on him with loyal support from his friend Chiman (Satyadeep Misra). It is his this ability that gets the eye of a crony capitalist Kaizaad Khambatta (Karan Johar) who takes him under his wing exactly for that purpose – to serve as a shield and a punching bag. The issue of why Khambatta baptizes Balraj as Johnny and which exact body part of Balraj he looks at when he gives the new name isn’t off many of the film’s sub-themes either.

While it becomes the job of Balraj to beat what the communist stands for and supports, Khambatta gifts a plush restaurant Bombay Velvet to Johnny Balraj. And it is here that Jonny finds Rosie again. (Now will leave it up to your brains to find more themes and what each character stands for from here on. Of course if you are careful enough not to be mesmerized Amit Trivedi’s exceptionally well done songs, each of them will tell you more about the story. It just takes first few stanzas of the first song to tell us which direction the film’s going.)

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However, as the war between communism and capitalism takes a new high, Balraj’s request for his share of his capitalist dreams makes things take a down turn for him. And that is when you begin to see the fight – the fight for what he dreams (but not what he wanted). Strangely for him even his love for Rosie, nor his friendship with Chiman, will enable them to understand him, and it is probably only Kay Kay Menon as the relentless police officer who pursues the real villain in each of these characters is finally the one who really cares. The ending then isn’t surprising, because the themes play themselves out rather too well for Anurag Kashyap. But the real ending is when Kay Kay Menon throws his hat off, for he knows life could have been simpler for all – without the political power and police nexus, without the communist solutions for problems only, without the crony capitalists, without the naivety of all ordinary men who have only guts but very little conscience and believe that that’s how things ought to be done.

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What works for Bombay Velvet is the machismo and masochism that runs through the frames of the film, great music, amazing sound and it’s awesome visual texture. What may not work for it is that it could be too brainy and intellectual for the minds that are easily pleased by Sunny Leones or Nathalia Kaurs. (And for those who would want to check their braininess despite their obvious partiality to Leones or Kaurs, Anurag does have a simple test in the film – why at a certain point in the film when Khambatta and Johnny have a phone conversation none of them speaks a word throughout this call! Crack that well, and you will see the many themes and subthemes that Anurag Kashyap touches, delves and dives in throughout the film. Personally this alone could be the scene of the century for me – enlighten me if it is copied from somewhere else.)

Bombay Velvet could be the best of Anurag Kashyap as yet, may be even better than Black Friday or Gangs of Wasseypur. Ironically, the movie itself starts mostly with ‘Aam Hindustani Teri Kismat Kharaab Hai’ – aptly speaking about Anurag Kashyap. If Bombay Velvet was made by anyone else from India or by anyone else, it would have been called the film of the decade already!

Denouement:

In a world of lies and liars, an honest work of art is always an act of social responsibility – Robert McKee.

Anurag grows out of his visual rants, from brave and borderline impolite independent films to this extremely heavy budgeted film paying homage to ordinary men’s dreams which – even though I stay too far from him – makes me believe that his growth as a filmmaker, if not as an individual, has been phenomenal. The film may or may not get back all the money it had needed to be made, but it will definitely pave way for more such and this is no less a social act!

On a personal note, no matter who says what about Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag, or recounts great many inspirations made by Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, John Hillcoat or whoever, or relates this film to even awful ones such as Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Anurag Kashyap becomes all the more relevant and all the more present, and all the more is than he ever was. For those who are not bothered by the spoilers here, please do watch Bombay Velvet and definitely on big screen, because this is something you wouldn’t want to miss simply because some reviewer or trade analyst or half-crack filmmaker talks less of it.

 

 

The Imitation Game – In which the ordinary ones imitate the God

There is a thing about Genius. They are always probably the first of the human kind who can see how things are not just wrong in the world but can also be bettered. That is their win and their romance. Strangely it is their romantic win that makes them the ultimate losers. And that’s the tragedy they will have to deal with, something even the future generations after them will have to deal with, because geniuses have always been too bloody good for their times to be easily understood.

Alan Turing of The Imitation Game is that genius. He is an older version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, lacking the indifferent sense of humor of the British running into World War II. Wronged because he has a separate way to look at things, the problem of being Alan is that he completely understands the mindset of those who wrong him – time and again. His weakness however is that he never has been gifted with the ways of winning them over, except through his work and single minded dedication to it. And so he has to find his own way of cracking the Enigma code of the German’s indigenous information decrypting machine that was beating the Allies black and blue. Break the code and the Allied Powers had the war in their kitty.

For the normal world, the Second World War was killing thousands of Jews and more number of soldiers from across the world. The war for Alan Turing was with the limitations of human mind, of those who seem to understand him, but are out to get him at their first chance. Because you see he is no different from Herr Hitler. In fact he even utters the dialogue “…because we can” ditto like the German Dictator did. But unlike Hitler he was not trying to win over countries or spread a specific flag across the earth, he wanted to celebrate the possibility of having created an alternative brain. His intellect already had derived that the human mind is incapable of making a valid judgment without bias developed with the necessity to live in a saner society, and that human morals create wars, while the morals of his kind create pieces that can imitate God’s greatest invention. (Oh by the way if he created something that could imitate humans, what would that make Alan?)

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Yet despite his follies, he finds friends, men who are ready to invest in his genius and a woman, Joan Clarke, who wants to be someone on her own. You could call her a genius too – for the times she was living in. They all help him get over the limitations of the war mongers, the so-called peace keepers. Yet every time he found a solution he has had to face a new opposition, and every time it is bigger than the previous one. So Alan’s friends come up with something, holding him away from their biased judgements as much as they could. Together, from being unnecessary expenditure of a war to playing Gods with the lives of millions – they win. But even they too can’t help him for a secret that he holds deep down in his heart. And there is only one bigger tragedy that being a genius, it is being born a genius with a secret. Alan Turing was a homosexual in a country that couldn’t accept his ‘indecency’.

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Production design, the editing, the visual effects and whatever those popular films from Hollywood are made of are absolutely top notch in The Imitation Game, but there are three great winners who stand out. 1. The ensemble cast – Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matt Goode and every one else along with the lead pair. 2. The Lead Pair. Benedict Cumberbatch, the Sherlock from BBC’s Sherlock. He is as good here. Oh no he is better. He holds the self-defeating secret in his eyes through out the film like it has been killing him for ages. Keira Knightley shows how terrific actors can reshape everything about the story they tell just with one scene towards the end. 3. The screenplay. An adaptation of Alan Turing: The Enigma, Graham Moore’s story of Alan Turing jumps time at the most unexpected moments. There is the code, and the genius of course has to break it. Alan Turing broke it. Else his story wouldn’t have been told in the first place. But that’s just how the story works at a physical level. At what cost? That’s the intellectual part of it. What did this loss cause him – the secret that ruined his lust for life and his lust to make a difference? That’s the emotional part of it. And what does his story say about human condition? – Ah! There in lies the beauty – the spirit of The Imitation Game. It warns us, though sparsely with cliched dialogue.

And for whiners who want to look at deep into his dark side – stop being a voyeur and think about this: we rarely get a glimpse of Alan Turing without him being with someone else or something else – but of course that’s how any screenplay externalizes a conflict. But the decision to not to go further into his homosexuality works in the film’s favor irrespective of whether it was well planned out for an effect or if it was pure safe play to get a PG13+ rating. As a result we only see a tortured genius from the eyes of those who could only guess and judge what he could be inside, almost like Citizen Kane. But the real rosebud is that The Imitation Game is not just about him but also about how when we as a civilization are faced with an enigma – what we do with it, what gives us the power to do something or anything about it and who suffers in the end.

Surprises of the Day – 03.04.2014

 

A man who I knew, to whom I couldn’t reach out to, even though seeing him after ‘some’ time

A woman whose poem about reflection and a mirror reminded me of a character I created

A sparrow’s song in the morning, and a peacock’s squeal in the evening

My mom still feeling shy when I ask her with what name should I store her husband’s name in her new mobile

My reaching out to an old colleague telling him that I can’t find guys like him easily

That I should think about writing this in the midnight