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.

 

 

Boyhood – A Kind of a Review

boyhood3There is a scene in Boyhood when Olivia (Patricia Arquette) suddenly cries out “my life is just gonna go like that… this series of milestones…” We all would want to agree with her. After all what’s a 60 years or more or less of it in this eternal cosmos. And yet what director Richard Linklater (of Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight series and Waking Life) says is far beyond those lines.

Boyhood is predominantly the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a dreamy six year old into an 18 year old – literally. In a life controlled, limited, conditioned and ‘what not‘ed by parents (even step ones too), Mason is as much an out of the place kid as we all have been during that age. Mason’s world is as dull or as happy it can be – cycle rides, school, friendly neighborhoods, an annoying sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), along with a yearning for a father who happens to be their mother’s divorced husband. And when Olivia moves out of home in hope of making it better for her kids, their world gets as complicated as it can get. And so begins a child’s biggest and a necessary nightmare – ‘loss of innocence’ and dealing with it.

It is sometimes tough to realize when in the film Mason and Samantha have grown older and we take cues from their changed hair styles or tooth braces or such physical clues. But it is their underlying emotions expressed subtly that tell us about their growth. Richard Linklater ponders on – how quickly these kids grow and yet they are kids, who look at the world with different viewing lenses, coming into their own sooner than later. Linklater delves into the kids innocence and growth as easily as he mixes the talk about pop culture and existentialism ala all his previous films.

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It seems for all the major characters within the story life seems event less – even as the kids’ father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) continues to visit them and tries to be as much a limited father he can be within his visiting hours; and even as Olivia continues her education and also marries a second time. The second husband, for reasons never known (how can any child know) turns out to be a good but disciplinarian and an alcoholic father. So the big events in the life of these kids are those when their seemingly working arrangements, for which they might have struggled – at least emotionally, fall out as both their parents make more and more mistakes – probably teaching Mason a lesson or two about life.

The camera is set in places as if we were sitting with Mason, his glass eyes absorbing everything, and we think we have an answer as to why he seems withdrawn. In these withdrawn worlds of these characters come the moments like when – Mason Sr. tries to educate his daughter (in her mid teens) about being ‘protected’, else he gently warns her about mistakes like he and his once wife did. There is no guilt there, just a feeble feeling that life could have been different and better if it were so possible, which disguises a father’s heart-felt confession about not being a better parent. Or when Olivia asks her son if he had had a joint and he replies yes innocently, and she can only smile about it. Or that Samantha and Mason have very little to say to each other as they grow up but connect to each other as silent witnesses of being the kids of their parents. Of course it’s Linklater – he never takes sentimentality take over on what he intends to document. He paints a rare canvas that is real, living and continues to make us wonder bout what is the meaning of everything.

In a world where kids fights for growth have to be dramatized to be understood (Harry Potter), Boyhood is the exact opposite of it. (May be the director knew what he was doing and that’s why he covered the Harry Potter mania here.) In a world where teachers, media and anyone who can boss you will offer advice about making it big in life Boyhood looks at things that are generally considered small.

Linklater’s biggest achievement in the movie is to capture the growth of not just a boy but of what is generally called family – despite it not working the way it is expected to. Life seems to offer them a second chance every time and sometimes they make the best of it, sometime they don’t. It’s all acceptable here. For those who can’t – life’s events are memories. For those who can make the best of these chances – there seem to be more chances. And in a life where chances come and go by the toughest thing is – to not to give up on what doesn’t necessarily make sense but connects us all, to continue to dream of something beyond what is visible, to feel the moment take over you – like how you felt looking at the sky as a kid or when you got really high, and if possible find a partner who can share that dream and make meaning out of it.

No Linklater’s Boyhood isn’t just about Mason. It is about everyone and what makes life tick and how one retains it – despite the odds.