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Review: Bombay Velvet is too bloodless to stun, too passionless to stir

Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma in Bombay VelvetBombay Velvet paints a pretty postcard but not the soul of its decade, feels Sukanya Verma.

Cluttered with reminders of the past, the Bombay in Anurag Kashyap’s brand new movie pretends to exist in the late 1960s.

Posters of classic movies and advertisements, archived headlines, trams and vintage car models, a city and its neighbourhoods still known by their original names, old-fashioned clothes and hairstyles, emergence of young technology, appreciation for refined pursuits and Bombay’s eternal enchantment with the silver screen fill up its amber-lit frames.

The atmospheric detailing in Bombay Velvet is dedicatedly glitzy if not wholly familiar.

Though triumphant in technique and visual flourish, Kashyap’s unwieldy, unexciting throwback to the many myths and legends of the city of dreams, based on Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables, never transports us back in time.

One doesn’t need to know an era personally to believe it nor does it have to be historically accurate. But there’s something about its both -- limitations and strengths -- that renders nostalgia attractive. Bombay Velvet paints a pretty postcard but not the soul of its decade.

It’s also painfully predictable -- where even the sound of two bullet shots is enough to foresee the inevitable.

We’ve repeatedly witnessed two kinds of leading men in mainstream cinema -- one who wins against all odds and one who does not. Bombay Velvet chronicles one of this much-documented interpretations through an over plotted narrative, which lumbers between a shallow romance of wounded souls and an on-going conspiracy among industrialists, media sharks, politicians, bureaucrats and mill workers.

Latter starts out as a fairly fascinating pitch to expose the irony and ugly origins of Bombay's concrete jungle but shows disappointing foresight against its mad pursuit for stylised machismo.

Speaking of which, women in Bombay Velvet are nothing more than objects of rough affection or possession.

Yes, Anushka Sharma has a major role but her character never quite opens up to the audience. Madly oscillating between clammed up and coquettish, her Rosie Noronha is stiff not mysterious. Even when Noronha’s actions imply unconventionality and nerve, Sharma’s impassive performance doesn’t let us take notice. Her chemistry with Ranbir Kapoor’s Johnny Balraj is equally distant. They exhibit intimacy but no passion.

It’s a cold film about cold people but too bloodless to stun, too passionless to stir and too derivative to enthuse.

Where a guy who reacts to fights like sex and heavy-duty quarrel between lovers bizarrely transforms into a childish squabble reminiscent of a certain Raghu Jaitley and Pooja Dharamchand -- Bombay Velvet is much warped for its own good.

It starts with promise though.

A young Balraj, played by Yash Sehgal bearing astonishing resemblance to Ranbir, rescues Chiman from a gang of badgering bullies. It’s the sort of friendship that’s inspired several scripts in Bollywood of 1970s as well as the singular emotional space in an otherwise unsentimental setting.

Kapoor’s bromance with the excellent Satyadeep Mishra (as the adult Chiman) wears the sort of intensity and conviction that is found wanting in his ardour for Anushka.

Balraj’s entrance and ascension into the world of crime courtesy the city’s influential Karan Johar’s Kaizad Khambatta even as Jimmi Mistry’s (a smooth Manish Chaudhari comes closest to representing the era) newspaper editor and Kay Kay Menon’s remarkable cop keep tabs on his moves is unbelievably easy. As is his feverish fervour for Rosie and her subsequent seduction.

In trying to emulate the aesthetics of Scarface and Goodfellas sans the subtext, Bombay Velvet forgets to flesh out the motivations of Balraj’s one-dimensional darkness.

And no amount of Amit Trivedi’s spunky jazz and Ranbir’s incredible range can make demented look edgy. Rather his energy leaps out distractingly in the presence of calmer actors. One wouldn’t go to the extent of calling Karan Johar one but at least the filmmaker doesn’t embarrass himself. As the shrewd Khambatta, he exudes sophistication but certainly not the menace.

A dreary romance advancing against an ordinary crime drama controlled by a bad guy no one is scared of -- quite early on in Bombay Velvet, a sense of exhaustion kicks in, which keeps on escalating into unbearable boredom.

Often contrived elements are pulled off when injected with personality and crisp dialogues. Hard to believe there’s nothing exceptional to quote or remember from a product helmed by the eloquent Kashyap.

There are exactly two whistle-worthy moments in the film. Both feature Raveena Tandon. The lady is all splendour and it’s a shame how little of it is makes it on screen.

Wondering what else got left out?

Rediff Rating: