Let’s put it out there that Johnny Balraj, played by Ranbir Kapoor, in director Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet is a nut job on good days and a loose canon on bad ones. His madness is reflected in his darting eyes and his craziness is quadrupled when he meets the alluring jazz singer Rosie Noronha (Anushka Sharma).
It’s love at first sight for the street-toughened criminal, who doesn’t catch a break in life. He wants her and wants her with a rabid intensity. Now, Balraj is a child of post-independent India and lives in Bombay’s [now Mumbai] red light district with his foster mother, a prostitute with questionable parenting skills. But his life dramatically changes when a stylish and sardonic media mogul Kaizad Kambhata (Karan Johar) takes him under his wing and uses him to do all the dirty jobs in the business. Their union is absurd because it makes you question why a rich man would even bother nurturing a street-toughened petty criminal and mould him to be a manager of a swanky jazz club.
But Kapoor does a splendid job of making it all look convincing and routine. He jumps from playing a violent lover to a cruel killer and then to a greedy upstart with startling conviction.
Johar, who makes his first major acting splash with Bombay Velvet, also does his bit of playing the scheming business tycoon. He’s pure evil when it comes to looking after his own interests, but you loathe him truly when he makes pointed references to Johnny’s faulty English and revels in his own supercilious privileged upbringing. The scene where he steps out so that he can laugh aloud and smirk at Johnny’s lack of understanding of English is top notch.
The first half is engaging as Kashyap draws you into Johnny, Rosie and Kaizad’s world. They are all collectively troubled and their present is dictated by their fractured pasts. You get into their heads to a large extent in the first half.
A chunk of credit is owed to Kashyap and his crew for painstakingly recreating ’60s Mumbai. The ambience lends itself perfectly to a love story that has all the signs of going wrong. Actress Sharma, bee-stung lips and all, is convincing as an exploited jazz singer. While Kapoor and Sharma are individually great in their roles, together they don’t necessarily come across as a knock-out couple. Their fights have more depth and chemistry than their amorous encounters.
The second half isn’t as tightly knit as the first as their lives unravel at a frenetic and confused pace. The web of deceit, deception and betrayal becomes unnecessarily convoluted. In the last 30 minutes, this skewed Romeo and Juliet-style romance with some crazy protagonists ends up looking like The Terminator.
The climax is violent and gory as Balraj goes on a relentless killing spree with a machine gun. It’s all good, but somewhere you forget what he’s actually fighting for. Having said that, Bombay Velvet makes for a good one-time watch primarily due to good performances from its lead actors and a reminder of a forgotten era.
Film: Bombay Velvet
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar and Kay Kay Menon
Rating: 3 out of 5