various times, the public sale of alcohol was illegal throughout what was then
Bombay State. Of course, for the mobbed-up nightclub managed by Johnny Balraj, Prohibition
was good for business. The new vocalist is not bad either, but their inevitable
romance gets caught up in an underworld power struggle in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet (trailer here), which opens
today in New York.
and his sworn-brother Chimman grew up on the streets together, but it is Balraj
who has the necessary crazy to go far in gangtserism. Even when he starts
fronting the swanky Bombay Velvet club in the early 1960s, he still blows off
steam fighting in underground steel cage matches. Technically, it is Balraj’s
business but it is really part of the newspaper mogul and syndicate boss Kaizad
Khambata’s vast empire. Still, Balraj has a free hand to hire talent like Rose
Noronha. She makes quite the impression of him. Unfortunately, she is a plant
sent to seduce Balraj by Jimmy Mistry, the ambitious editor of a rival
works. Balraj falls for Noronha hard, but as her star rises, it becomes mutual.
Of course, when undesirable elements from her past try to assert themselves, it
leads to friction. Frankly, Balraj does not think much of either Khambata or
Mistry, but he stays in business with his ostensive boss in hopes of getting a
piece of the action. In this case, the pie getting sliced up is the massive
real estate fortune to be made from the anticipated development of
Bombay/Mumbai’s Nariman Point business district.
a way, Velvet echoes the infighting gangsters
and politicians of Yoo Ha’s real estate-driven Gangnam Blues, but at times viewers can see the not so subtle
influence of De Palma’s Scarface.
Probably the only thing separating the wildly erratic Belraj from Tony Montana
is a small mountain of cocaine. He has the Tommy Gun.
Velvet is clearly Kashyap’s most commercial
film to date. He is no stranger to underworld intrigue having helmed the gritty
epic Gangs of Wasseypur, but he really
cranks up the glossy flashiness this time around. Yet, since the film is
largely set in a jazz club, he can have his cake and eat too, by confining the
ample musical numbers to the Velvet stage. In fact, they work rather well. Amit
Trivedi’s tunes, sounding like Bollywood show-stoppers as arranged by Nelson
Riddle, should definitely get heads nodding.
Kapoor makes Balraj’s unstable lunacy strangely charismatic. You would never
want to be anywhere near such a person, but he is consistently fun to watch.
Likewise, Karan Johar shamelessly chews on the scenery as the flamboyantly snide and villainous Khambata. Manish Choudhary is also terrifically sleazy as the greedy
Red Mistry. Oddly enough given his prominence, Kay Kay Menon gets somewhat
shortchanged on screen time, even though his honest Inspector Kulkarni is a potentially
For fans of Wasseypur,
it is important to note there is no shortage of dead bodies in Velvet. It has a high polished sheen,
and some appealing big band vocals, but it is really about getting down to
business. An impressively mounted decade-spanning period production, Bombay Velvet is recommended for fans of
the gangster genre and high-end Bollywood when it opens today (5/15) in New York,
at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Anurag Kashyap, Bollywood, Gangster Films