Bombay Velvet has been hyped, talked about and much awaited. There's the very attractive lead pair in retro-mode and the talented director. Anurag Kashyap is known for making offbeat films. You may or may not like them, but you have to admit that he differentiates himself from the rest of the pack. So it is with Bombay Velvet. It is hatke although I can't confess to liking it too much.
Ranbir Kapoor is "Johnny" Balraj, a small time conman looking to hit the big time. He is noticed by newspaper mogul and schemer of all things shady Kaizad Khambatta (Johar) who sees fit to put this hot-headed, ambitious young man and his good friend Chimman (Misra) to use carrying out various illegal activities. Johnny eventually comes to run the "Bombay Velvet" club for Khambatta, where lady-love Rosie Noronha (Sharma) is also employed as a jazz singer. Johnny however is unsatisfied, gnawing at the leash, and wanting a partnership in Khambatta's business. Thus starts the trouble.
Bombay Velvet is based on historian Gyan Prakash's book "Mumbai Fables", and Prakash is one of the writers on the film. The noir film mixes in drama and real events (like the Bombay land reclamation) with a story of gangsters, their molls and guns - the look and feel of it reminded me of The Godfather. There's our hero, who is actually a bad guy hand-in-glove with the Bombay Mafia. The story spins around him. It is not an uninteresting story, so it a pity that the film cannot convey that oomph to us.
As much as I like Ranbir Kapoor's acting chops (e.g.; Barfi), I have to say that he is ill-cast here. Kapoor cannot quite convey Johnny's intensity or his all-consuming hunger for power - here he looks like an artificially scruffed up pretty boy playing around with a street side accent. It doesn't help that Johnny's character doesn't appear to have very many redeeming qualities. I felt more sympathetic towards Chimman and Rosie, and even Kaizad, than towards Johnny. So I don't care about the main character and that's half the battle lost right there.
Also I don't think the romance part of this "romantic thriller" worked. The chemistry between the lead pair is virtually undetectable, partly because we see that the guy is a violent lout and the girl is much abused. There are scenes where I feel a twinge of pathos for what could have been (for the characters and for the film), and I get what Kashyap might have been going for, but he is unable to intensify the emotion to a point where I would be truly engaged.
Another problem with Bombay Velvet is its slow pacing. This laggardness, and the way the screenplay juxtaposes events, makes the story slightly incoherent, because you sorta lose the thread between cause and effect. The narrative is eventful, but the events seem drawn out, and put on screen with a dumbed down intensity. At 2.5 hours, this film could have done with major editing, to step up the pace and infuse it with some of that frenetic energy that the characters should have been buzzing around with.
On the positive side Kashyap has paid attention to the details; the sets and locales feel authentic. The music, much of which is sung onscreen by Rosie, has a very nice olde worlde feel to it. Anushka did a great job as the Goan songstress, and Satyadeep Misra was a marvel as staunch friend Chimman. Even Karan Johar who makes his acting debut did well as the married homosexual gangster. The other actors were dependable as well.
For all that, Bombay Velvet falls very short of the cult film it should have been. It is a decent watch, but do not go in expecting the moon (as I did).