Bombay Velvet: A Dissection Of Its Allusions

Posted: May 17, 2015 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags: ,

It’s all deja vu here. Because Anurag Kashyap is not new to backlash. That Girl In Yellow Boots is not very old. And before that there was No Smoking. And these are part and parcel of the game – when you don’t want to be calculative about “what would audience like”, but try something new, package it with shiny things, and hope that they will come to your side. Sometimes they will, maybe they wont. The hullabaloo seems to be more this time because of a mainstream big actor and the budget. But when do they matter when you are watching a film as genuine film buff.

Keeping all those things aside, here is Arnab Sarkar trying to dissect Bombay Velvet.

Cinema is like a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word, emotion.”

That is the reply Samuel Fuller, portrayed as an American director himself, gives in one famous scene of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, when asked about the meaning of cinema.

2839_1

Being a critic of Cahiers du Cinema, Godard believed the very purpose of cinema, was to make the audience think, to introspect. So when he couldn’t tolerate it further, he went on to make movies, which were in a way thought-provoking, which catered to his instincts. These films, through which he hinted towards cinema, politics, America and wars, were heavily booed by the masses; each time one released, and they were tagged as nonsense.

Few years later, that same auteur would be hailed as one of the most influential movie-makers of all time, and his styles would be adopted and praised world over.

A Kashyap film has hidden layers in its stories. His earlier films No Smoking, Paanch, Gulaal had subtexts too, which were very beautifully disguised inside the outer skin of the script. Recently, a song ‘Taar bijli se patle humaare piya’ from his film Gangs Of Wasseypur was finally dissected on a social platform, to hint at such a subtext about the politics of India.

So while, the whole nation was busy criticising his recent release Bombay Velvet and leaving no stones unturned to make it a huge box-office failure, I interrogated myself: Can Kashyap do this to himself? Or is he simply playing with us?

The film which externally looks as the simplified love-story of Johnny Balraj and Rosie Noronha against the enmity between the media moguls Khambata and Mistry over the politics of Bombay is actually a film-study that points us to myriad conclusions.

The Roaring Twenties

Yes, this James Cagney-starrer movie is referred to, quite at the beginning of Bombay Velvet, as an element of foreshadowing in the script through the line ‘He used to be a Big-Shot.’ But, very few know that The Roaring Twenties, per se, was actually a golden era in the United States and Europe, which had witnessed tremendous development from economic and cultural point of view.

roaring-twenties-trailer-title-still

During that glorious decade, America witnessed a change in its lifestyle post-World War I. Real-estate boomed, skyscrapers built and huge businesses were invested in. That was also the time when labour unions disintegrated due to the rising power of the politicians and employers. Number of strikes dwindled, and the poor became poorer. The fact how Khambata tries to change the face of Bombay post-Independence is a direct reference to this history of America.

Also, it was the same time when American government imposed its Prohibition Act on alcohol, and which led to the rise of ‘speakeasies’(cover-up bars selling illegal liquor) all over America. It was a huge money spinner, and many tycoons invested in that. For here in our film, Bombay Velvet is that very ‘speakeasy’ that is being referred to in the face of prohibition put up by the state.

At a time when the American culture was going through such changes, jazz was introduced for the first time along with dance forms like waltz, foxtrot, which has again been highlighted in the film from Bombay’s perspective.

Homosexuality was getting accepted, and people had started coming out, baring their desires out in open. Now, we know that typical gait, those subtle hints which Khambata gives to Johnny, were essentially, pokes by Kashyap at our numb consciousness.

Khambata’s wife was the perfect description of how females had started realizing their sexual freedom during the 1920s in America. They were not anymore confined to inside their homes. Wide kohl-rimmed eyes, new hair styles, freedom to drink and smoke were the trademarks.

Lastly, the newly found organized crime and gangsters flooded the cities of America, as they were hired by powerful people to get their work done. That led to rise in murders during that period, and thus a drastic enforcement of law and order on the streets. The emergence of Balraj, as a gangster is again an allusion to that episode.

There is one scene in the movie, when Khambata walks out of his room and secretly sniggers at Balraj’s naiveté. It is epic, and I so wish to wonder it’s actually Kashyap sneering at those who didn’t get his references. The film itself is a mock on clichéd cinema.

Bombay Velvet might be a tribute to Scorsese, De Palma, Tarantino for its styles, but it is a bigger tribute to America. In one of the scenes, where Mistry calls Khambata an ‘American agent’, Kashyap just throws it directly at your face to grab it.

The movie may have been based on Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables, but here the rise of contemporary Mumbai has been compared to America.

Godard here?

This method of bringing out important issues about politics, cultures is quite pro-Godard. But the important thing to note here is the limited indulgence of the characters, like in the films of the New Wave auteur. Just before they are making the connections with you, they snap out of it. You do not get deeply involved into their emotions. It remains superficial, like Ferdinand and Marianne, in Pierrot le Fou.

And yet, for the masses, for those who don’t wish to go deep, Bombay Velvet has: Love, Hate, Action, Violence and Death. A perfect cliché-filled cinema.

Parallels to Kashyap in Bollywood

I know this may sound silly, but here I see Balraj as Kashyap’s alter-ego. His entry into Bollywood with nothing to lose, working up his way through the street noir (indies), laughing at his own (street fight) failures, fighting against the system, just to be a Big-Shot one day in the industry, until the industry smothers him.

ranbir-kapoor_640x480_51422517457

But, he still sees a hope that the ones who knew him well, whom he gave a platform to grow and spread their talent, would look up to him and exclaim that he was indeed a Big-Shot!

With that, I rest my views here. Only Anurag Kashyap can tell if these were a bit valid.

Arnab Sarkar

(Doctor during day time, and aspiring filmmaker during night, Arnab loves films more than medicines. Settled in Vadodara, he is currently studying for post-graduation)

(PS – Click here to read Anurag’s latest FB post and closing remark on the film and its making)

Comments
  1. I wondered about the alter ego as well, especially with KJo there as the slippery, shifting representative of the Powers That Be.

    • Arnab Sarkar says:

      Yes.. That’s what I had made the analogy with. He came forward in AK’s life and changed his view towards mainstream masala cinema. So there you go.

  2. @Rohwit says:

    Superb post! Superrrrrb!

  3. A very detailed write up… I must say that I enjoyed reading it thoroughly!

    Here are my thoughts on Bombay Velvet:

    Bombay Velvet is sprawling period piece with an excess of style over substance. While it would be a bit farfetched to describe Bombay Velvet as a cinematic success, it would also be unfair to deem it a failure. Yes, it’s a mess of a film but a mess that’s way more alluring than the trash that Bollywood churns out day in and day out. The movie features several exceptional shots but there are as many bad ones as well. Perhaps, Kashyap seems to have forgotten about the legendary American filmmaker Howard Hawks’ saying that “a good movie is three good shots and no bad ones.” In order to truly appreciate Bombay Velvet, one needs to be madly in love with movies, for it pays endless tributes to yesteryear films and stars with Film Noir and Classic Hollywood influences abound. Kashyap’s fascination for all things cinema is evident in each and every frame.

    The music, sets and costumes ooze with a hitherto unattained degree of resplendence, especially in the context of India cinema. Bombay Velvet is not an easy film to appreciate for the masses, mainly because of its excesses. It would take a diehard cinema enthusiast to truly enjoy it. The movie is quite high on violence quotient and those with weak hearts would find certain sequences quite disturbing. Nonetheless, as a mere exercise in style, Bombay Velvet is a commendable attempt but its prospects at the box office appear to be rather bleak. Recommended only for cinema enthusiasts!

    My full analysis can be read here:

    http://www.apotpourriofvestiges.com/2015/05/bombay-velvet-2015-anurag-kashyaps.html

  4. vinjk says:

    Hi Arnab,

    I haven’t seen the film yet.

    I like the way you spot the parallels between the history of America and Bombay Velvet narrative. But why would Anurag Kashyap use American history as a reference for his movie? Parallels to Kashyap in Bollywood makes sense but American history…I don’t think so.

    • Arnab Sarkar says:

      Well yes, even I had questioned myself that. But then I wondered why just he had to use The Roaring Twenties then? And even if he did it on no purpose, aren’t the histories so convincingly similar? Just a Google on The Roaring Twenties gave that shock to me. Anyways, I felt it must be something to do with. Rest is up to you.

  5. Chaknya says:

    There is constant reference to “masses” who don’t “get” the movie. Okay, so lets drop the security guards, rickshaw pullers and other low income “desi” groups who are generally clubbed as masses. So that leaves us with critics and die hard filmbuffs (not Anurag fanboys – no point preaching to the choir). Most of the critics are fairly educated in world cinema and Hollywood. They didn’t get it. Filmbuffs didn’t get it either. Are we saying that nobody got this film except of course Saint Kashyap and his fanboys? Come one, nobody is perfect, everybody screws up. The plot had too many holes. The characters were too thinly sketched or just caricatures. Just quoting masters endlessly does not make an essay. I watch movies because they make me feel something. This one didn’t. This is 2015, the audience (not talking about those masses) is pretty smart and well exposed. Lets not apologise endlessly and beat a dead horse. Time to move on.

  6. Quentin Stark says:

    I liked it. But many didn’t before even watching it.

    We as a society are so obsessed with ‘having an opinion’ that we forget how heavily influenced is this pseudo notion of ‘i have this opinion about this thing’. Add some ‘fear of missing out’ on the social media too it and you have the recipe of a self evolving disaster.

    I hate the fact the film under performed and one of the biggest reason was the social WOM

    Here is an advice to everyone judging bombay velvet as if it is the worst movie of all time –

    The next time you critique a piece of art , lock yourself in a room, switch off that internet connection, go with a clean slate. Like the day you read your first comic book (and got amazed by it, remember?)

    Picture this..

    Your favorite writer pens a fairly average blog this time.

    You know how he’s written all his life. His strengths and grey areas, you know it all.

    Some other friends of yours start slating it on social media .
    One of these friends is a school dropout who never moved out of his city.
    One of these is studying at a prestigious B school, another a doctor who has lived in a remote city for 10 years, He only likes to see movies once in a while.

    One of them is running a family grocery store and he’s the one who does moral policing for right wing parties for a living.

    They don’t anything in common but one thing – They own a facebook account.

    What would you do after reading a mixed reaction from these guys? Would you skip reading that blog? Or judge it by yourself?

    Influence is a good thing, being easily influenced is a habit we need to dump along with the ‘smart’ friends you have.

    And go see Bombay Velvet

  7. Chankya says:

    uhmmm, if someone has cracked the formula of a box office success, blaming the critics and the masses who don’t get it, let me ask this. What was so awesome about Grand Masti, which despite bad reviews was a box office hit? No, it’s not just sex jokes, we have plenty of homegrown sex crap which doesn’t cut ice with the masses(Poonam Pandey, anyone??). Ok, Ugly got great reviews, so why did it not translate into box office? If its a star thing, just having Ranbir Kapoor should do the job right? Then why did Besharam, fail so miserably? Even SRK and Sallu bhai’s mojo doesn’t work all the time. Stop blaming the whole world, maybe the audience is smarter than you think. Maybe its a bizarre animal with its own mind firing its own engines. What is a pleasant surprise is the appreciation of well told stories – Dum Laga ke Haisha and Piku, come to mind. No 100 crore budgets, no super stars, no gimmicks, just tell the goddamn story.

  8. Anonymous says:

    While I do agree with Arnab, here is my take on BV, to me it was more GoW than American.

    Have a look:

    I was waiting for Bombay Velvet for almost two years, or more than that I don’t remember. From the day I read that AK is making something this grand with Karan Johar and Ranbir Kapoor and all other people I was excited to hell. I wanted to watch it more than anything else. I have seen all the AK films and patronize his work but one film which has a special place in my heart and an experience which I can never forget is Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW). In Faisal’s words, ‘Humri zindagi ka ekkhi maksad reh gya tha Bombay Velvet ko bade parde pe dekhna’.

    Finally I saw it on first day. And how did I like it. I loved it. Nothing like GoW or like other great movies made by AK before but it was an entertaining movie can be watched with family (which is generally not the case with AK films). I usually read reviews before watching the film but in this case I didn’t read any reviews. After watching the film I read all the reviews and I was shocked. Critics just murdered the film maybe they were expecting something like Scarface or Goodfellas and were disappointed. However, I found out an interesting phenomena, reviews paint our vision and we do not watch the film honestly. Yes. We tend to like or dislike the film based on the reviews we read. I mean I know it is not a great film and had some flaws but still it is ten times better then what we watch on the name of commercial cinema. It had great art work, engaging script and wonderful performances. I loved the way Bombay is shown in the film. It takes you to the Bombay of 60’s and 70’s without many noises. I remember having the same experience when I saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

    The performances by Ranbir, Satyadeep, Anushka, Kay Kay Menon and all others were fantastic. But above all one person who just blew my mind was Karan Johar. He was brilliant as Khambatta, I wasn’t expecting anything from him and he was just terrific. I have seen many Hindi films and I don’t remember a film with such an extravagant art work. You can feel the subtle detailing in the work, it is surreal.

    In spite of being such a good film why has it received so much criticism both from inside and outside the industry. I can’t say much about the people within the industry. They have their ‘personal reasons’. But I will try to dissect the case for people outside the industry; there were two kinds of audience for this film, first ‘Normal Cinegoers’ who went to watch an engaging ‘love story’ (the way it was supposed to be as promoted by the makers) and the other (pseudo) intellectual cinephliles who went to watch yet another gem from the master.

    ‘Normal Cinegoers’ didn’t like it becoz (honestly speaking) there was too much. I mean there was so much in two and half hour that people were unable to grab what was actually going on. They were unable connect to the love story. But it is much more than just a love story it is a tale of a city, how it grew and became what it is today.

    Well, similar was the case with GoW too but luckily it had two parts. You might call me crazy but after watching Bombay Velvet I could draw parallels between GoW and Bombay Velvet. I somehow felt AK has tried to make GoW again in Bombay Velvet. I mean the soul of both the film is same. Ranbir is Faizal Khan of BV and Karan is Ramadhir and they have done it to perfection. GoW was a kind of film you could not watch with your family becoz of excessive violence and foul language but here (with Bombay Velvet) AK came up with a ‘more presentable feature’. There is no foul language; violence is also ‘within permissible limits’ and it have beautiful glittering sets with jazz music narrating the tale of much more ‘familiar city’ than Wasseypur. But I think intellectual cinephliles who loved GoW were not expecting this avatar of AK. They somewhere felt he has sold out. They just can’t see actors with make ups and well choreographed songs in an AK film. And they were disappointed.

    AK wanted to get all kinds of audience this time, trying to make a more entertaining film, the fact that this is the first AK movie with a U/A certificate (keeping aside Hanuman and short story in Bombay Talkies) says many things. But maybe he missed it. Having said that one more very important thing that I would like to mention here is, the way newspapers publish reports about the business film is doing (practically) ‘each and every hour’ also kills the film. They are all over the place. I mean my father doesn’t watch many films and he is least interested with what’s going on in cinemas but when I told him I went to watch BV, he was like, ‘….yeh toh flop ho gyi na pehle din sirf chaar crore banaye h’. I didn’t know what to say.

    I have always believed that box office success can never judge the quality of a film but now I think even the reviews cannot judge it. I have seen poor film getting better reviews and making loads of money. Whatever it is I just want to thank AK for making Bombay Velvet. It was worth the wait and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    From:
    A stupid biased hard core AK fan.

  9. sourabh says:

    I do agree with Arnab but for me it was more GoW than American.

    Here is my take :

    I was waiting for Bombay Velvet for almost two years, or more than that I don’t remember. From the day I read that AK is making something this grand with Karan Johar and Ranbir Kapoor and all other people I was excited to hell. I wanted to watch it more than anything else. I have seen all the AK films and patronize his work but one film which has a special place in my heart and an experience which I can never forget is Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW). In Faisal’s words, ‘Humri zindagi ka ekkhi maksad reh gya tha Bombay Velvet ko bade parde pe dekhna’.

    Finally I saw it on first day. And how did I like it. I loved it. Nothing like GoW or like other great movies made by AK before but it was an entertaining movie can be watched with family (which is generally not the case with AK films). I usually read reviews before watching the film but in this case I didn’t read any reviews. After watching the film I read all the reviews and I was shocked. Critics just murdered the film maybe they were expecting something like Scarface or Goodfellas and were disappointed. However, I found out an interesting phenomena, reviews paint our vision and we do not watch the film honestly. Yes. We tend to like or dislike the film based on the reviews we read. I mean I know it is not a great film and had some flaws but still it is ten times better then what we watch on the name of commercial cinema. It had great art work, engaging script and wonderful performances. I loved the way Bombay is shown in the film. It takes you to the Bombay of 60’s and 70’s without many noises. I remember having the same experience when I saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

    The performances by Ranbir, Satyadeep, Anushka, Kay Kay Menon and all others were fantastic. But above all one person who just blew my mind was Karan Johar. He was brilliant as Khambatta, I wasn’t expecting anything from him and he was just terrific. I have seen many Hindi films and I don’t remember a film with such an extravagant art work. You can feel the subtle detailing in the work, it is surreal.

    In spite of being such a good film why has it received so much criticism both from inside and outside the industry. I can’t say much about the people within the industry. They have their ‘personal reasons’. But I will try to dissect the case for people outside the industry; there were two kinds of audience for this film, first ‘Normal Cinegoers’ who went to watch an engaging ‘love story’ (the way it was supposed to be as promoted by the makers) and the other (pseudo) intellectual cinephliles who went to watch yet another gem from the master.

    ‘Normal Cinegoers’ didn’t like it becoz (honestly speaking) there was too much. I mean there was so much in two and half hour that people were unable to grab what was actually going on. They were unable connect to the love story. But it is much more than just a love story it is a tale of a city, how it grew and became what it is today.

    Well, similar was the case with GoW too but luckily it had two parts. You might call me crazy but after watching Bombay Velvet I could draw parallels between GoW and Bombay Velvet. I somehow felt AK has tried to make GoW again in Bombay Velvet. I mean the soul of both the film is same. Ranbir is Faizal Khan of BV and Karan is Ramadhir and they have done it to perfection. GoW was a kind of film you could not watch with your family becoz of excessive violence and foul language but here (with Bombay Velvet) AK came up with a ‘more presentable feature’. There is no foul language; violence is also ‘within permissible limits’ and it have beautiful glittering sets with jazz music narrating the tale of much more ‘familiar city’ than Wasseypur. But I think intellectual cinephliles who loved GoW were not expecting this avatar of AK. They somewhere felt he has sold out. They just can’t see actors with make ups and well choreographed songs in an AK film. And they were disappointed.

    AK wanted to get all kinds of audience this time, trying to make a more entertaining film, the fact that this is the first AK movie with a U/A certificate (keeping aside Hanuman and short story in Bombay Talkies) says many things. But maybe he missed it. Having said that one more very important thing that I would like to mention here is, the way newspapers publish reports about the business film is doing (practically) ‘each and every hour’ also kills the film. They are all over the place. I mean my father doesn’t watch many films and he is least interested with what’s going on in cinemas but when I told him I went to watch BV, he was like, ‘….yeh toh flop ho gyi na pehle din sirf chaar crore banaye h’. I didn’t know what to say.

    I have always believed that box office success can never judge the quality of a film but now I think even the reviews cannot judge it. I have seen poor film getting better reviews and making loads of money. Whatever it is I just want to thank AK for making Bombay Velvet. It was worth the wait and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    From:
    A stupid biased hard core AK fan.

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