The two decades covered by Bombay Velvet, 1949 to 1969, did indeed see the dramatic transformation of Bombay from a colonial port city run by Parsi industrialists and estate owners to a cosmopolitan, neo- capitalist metropolis. But instead of looking at these explosive decades from ground zero, Anurag Kashyap has chosen to narrate his story from the phoney perspective of club life.
This is the director’s prerogative, of course, but it does indicate a major shift in Kashyap’s evolution as ‘the outsider’ who found mainstream Hindi cinema too celebratory, and who injected a critical, self reflective, ironic note to it. Here, in Bombay Velvet, he has officially become a part of the system and given us a well crafted movie about the usual fluff. Johnny Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor) is a street kid who becomes a boxer and finds a mentor or two to become the owner of a jazz club called Bombay Velvet, a venerable institution which functions as a cover for Johnny’s financier, a smirking Parsi called Kaizad Khambata (Karan Johar). It is revealed, later in the movie, that Kaizad has a thing for Johnny, but then Johnny has a thing for the jazz singer Rosie (Anushka Sharma).
All this is very stylishly done, with references to Hollywood classics down the years, and Kashyap does succeed in creating an elegiac tone to his film, a feeling for an era and a lifestyle. This is quite attractive and makes his film watchable for the duration, but you constantly get this nagging feeling that the film has been photoshopped to wipe off a gritty Bombay surrounded by poverty and horrific inequality.
Of the cast, Ranbir is the wrong physical type to play a boxer with a constantly bloodied nose, though he does look more convincing later as a maniacal lover and killer.
The entire movie looks better as we go on, with Kashyap apparently fascinated with the palette he has invented of Bombay, circa 1969.