A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature
Anurag Kashyap's Bombay Velvet was destined to be a commercial failure from the word go. Given its humongous scope, both commercially as well as in terms of sheer ambition, Anurag Kashyap had put a lot on stake with Bombay Velvet (made with a whopping budget of INR 800 million). The movie marked a departure for Kashyap who over the last decade had succeeded in carving a niche for himself in Hindi cinema by making low budget, highly unconventional and genre-transcending films like Dev D, Gulaal, and Gangs of Wasseypur.
Simply put, here was a willful filmmaker walking on thin ice. A major concern with a big budget film is that the creative freedom is forced to take the back seat. The maker must let go of the artistic selfishness right from the onset. At each and every stage, the maker must be willing to make compromises unlike with indie filmmaking wherein the director has the creative luxury every artist badly craves for. The best a commercial filmmaker can do is to try and strike some kind of a balance between his own creative aspirations and the commercial expectations of those funding the project. Of course, it’s easier said than done, for even a slight error in judgment can make things go awry. The more ambitious the scope, the lesser are the chances of success. Like it happened with Bombay Velvet: Kashyap aimed for glory but fell short by some distance.
|Ranbir Singh as Johnny Balraj in Bombay Velvet|
Going by the Murphy's Law, it didn't take long for Bombay Velvet to fulfill its destiny. Not only did it prove to be a test of patience for the uninitiated viewers, it also proved to be a nightmare for its makers. Give the scale of catastrophe, it might take some time for Anurag Kashyap and company to come out of its shock. But, just because a film fails at the box office doesn't necessarily mean the film is bad in pure cinematic terms. As a film, Bombay Velvet relies too heavily on a viewer's understanding of the world cinema. It expects its audiences to be well versed with classic Hollywood films and stars. Perhaps, in order to appreciate Bombay Velvet, one needs to be madly in love with movies, like Kashyap himself. His fascination for all things cinema is evident in each and every frame of the film. Consider the scene which shows Johnny Balraj sitting in a film theatre and watching Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939). It may be an instant classic for a sophisticated viewer but certainly not for the uninitiated. There is another scene of great intensity wherein Johnny unloads two Thompson submachine guns, holding one in each of his hands, on the assassins sent out to kill him à la Tony Montana of Scarface (1983). Then there is a sequence which depicts Johnny relaxing in an opium den (a scene that’s highly reminiscent of the china town opium sequence in Sergio Leone’s magnum opus Once Upon a Time in America). The fact that Johnny starts off as a prize fighter and at one point in time also works as a longshoreman for a smuggler reminds one of Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy from Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954). On the other hand, we have Rosie who is a perfect mix of a femme fatale and a mobster moll. Yes, it's all pretty breathtaking if only one can relate to it, else it's a dud!
|James Cagney as Cody Jarrett (left) and Al Pacino as Tony Montana|
Now let's focus our attention to Johnny Balraj's caricature. Johnny Balraj is just not greedy for money and power like John Dillinger or Tony Montana. Johnny is actually driven by a sense of feral insanity (he is both barbaric and cruel) from the very onset. He is more like Cody Jarrett (James Cagney’s character in White Heat). Both Johnny and Cody are psychopathic criminals with a mother complex. Perhaps, that’s why Johnny comes across as more dangerous and less likable. Ranbir Kapoor looks daring and a bit over-the-top as Johnny Balraj. But, if it were Cagney he was trying to imitate then he certainly got it spot on. Of all the actors from the Hollywood’s golden age, Cagney was the most unique mainly because of his over-the-top acting style. It’s something that the great Stanley Kubrick took a note of when he made Jack Nicholson essay the role of Jack Torrance in his psychological horror masterpiece The Shining (1980). It certainly caught Kashyap’s attention as well. Yes, Bombay Velvet is a mess of a film but a mess that’s way more alluring than the trash that Bollywood churns out day in and day out. We only complain because we expect better from someone as talented as Kashyap. We don't expect him to let his ambition get the better of him. Remember how he had managed to pull it off with Gangs of Wasseypur despite all odds? He could have done something similar with Bombay Velvet had he not abandoned his roots. All these years he had been successful because he never tried to compromise on his movie's raw, indigenous appeal. Yes, his films have always had a lot of cinematic flair but the raw intensity of the films spoke for themselves: be it Gulaal or Dev D. That's precisely what lacked in Bombay Velvet. There have been reports that he had originally envisioned a 4-hour-long period piece but had to ultimately give in to the studio pressure. Maybe we could have had a better movie! Maybe not!
|Raveena Tandon in Bombay Velvet|
All being said and given what we have, Bombay Velvet nonetheless comes across as a sprawling period piece but one with an excess of style over substance. Among other flaws, the film also suffers from poor market segmentation and targeting: It's suicidal to cast A-list actors in experimental films. Yes, Bombay Velvet, at the end of the day, is an experimental film; whether it's by chance or by design can be a subject of debate. Bombay Velvet captures the period detail with painstaking accuracy. Kashyap's love for cinema and his ear for music are praiseworthy. Kashyap’s morbid obsession for the grotesque and the macabre just doesn’t seem to let go of him. The movie does give us glimpses of the evolution of Bombay into the financial capital it is today and the scandalous roles bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen played in shaping up its map. Alas, no parallel could be established between Johnny's rise to power and Bombay's evolution as a city! The music, songs, sets and costumes ooze with a hitherto unattained degree of resplendence, especially in the context of India cinema. While the acting is decent all around, some of the secondary caricatures are not properly sketched. Bombay Velvet is not an easy film to appreciate for the masses, mainly because of its excesses. Even a diehard cinema enthusiast will find himself being pushed to the limit in order to fully appreciate its cinematic spirit. Nevertheless, as a mere exercise in style, Bombay Velvet is nothing short of a commendable attempt and hence it cannot be deemed a cinematic disaster.
People who liked this also liked...