Bombay is a fascinating city and the Bombay of 1960s all the more fascinating because of the transitional phase the city was going through. A lot of things were happening in Bombay in the 60s – the jazz scene , gentrification , migration . A city undergoing metamorphosis would make for a fantastic movie provided someone could spin a cohesive narrative from the chaotic happenings and therein lies Bombay Velvet’s problem.
Take Mistry and Khambatta , the childhood friends each running a magazine. Khambatta is the gay capitalist , who has risen above genteel poverty . In a masterstroke , his character is explained in a few words ” maine woh sab kiya jo kisi khambatta ne nahi kiya. Mistry on the other hand has married into property. Both men have sacrificed and gambled to build their fortune and fight on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Khambatta of the old money wants the elite ( his elite too) to control the economy and change the face of the city whereas Mistry , him of the new money talks about equality , help for the mill workers. Their point of contention – an incriminating set of photos about a minister. Khambatta has his pawns Hiral and Johnnie to click his photos and Mistry sends his mistress Noronha to retrieve them . Both of them want to control the situation and force the outcome in their favor but are reluctant to get their hands dirty. This is a storyline that would make a hit. Plot this ” fourth estate” type narrative against the 1960s film and it screams blockbuster.
And then the love story , the fragile Rosie and Johnny who is quick to anger . In one of the telling moments of the film , Rosie sings naak pe hai gussa , sitting in a bathtub. Johnny comes home and she stops singing – perhaps she is guilty of romanticizing the angry outbursts (and probably abuse)of her man. He slaps her and she slaps him back. She loves him enough to give up singing and he does not love her enough – There in a dingy hotel room , cornered by adversaries and adverse situations ,she begs him to leave his plans and plots and run away. He refuses and she runs out , only to become a bait to draw him to his death and there are those incredible push and pull moments between them.
The two narratives would have been great – provided they were made as two different movies. Kashyap combines these two narratives and they just don’t mesh. To me the movie struggled in finding the right balance between these two . The first half focuses on the conflict between khambatta , Mistry and the second half is dedicated to the love story making the balance go off kilter , and tragically the movie never recovers from this faux pas.
That said , it’s not a bad movie and has its moments of brilliance . There are fantastic performances within the film be it Karan Johar , Satyadeep Mishra or Manish Chaudry. There is that sizzling chemistry between Ranbir and Anushka. There is the jaw dropping music , taking the story forward , segueing with the situation and characters. I loved behroopia , sylvia , darbaan and I wanted to pause , rewind and watch dhadaam dhadaam again ( never mind I was sitting in a theatre ) cos I loved the way the narrative was mentioned in puzzle pieces. I loved how the characters were named too – Rosie for she looks at the rosier aspects of life . Balraj , the brawny guy with little brain and then he gets that Johnny epithet added ( johnny come lately anyone ?).
This is not lazy filmmaking by any stretch – you can perceive that quite clearly when you watch the movie. I just felt that with separate narratives the movie would have worked better . May be years later , Kashyap would sit at the editing table , work on the footage he captured and give us those two movies about Bombay – but until then , I will love this movie flaws , warts and all for this is a labour of love . You might be bored , be disappointed with the jarring narrative , but you will take a piece of Bombay with you when you go back from the movies…..