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.)
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.)
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.
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!
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.