STORY: Johnny Balraj fixes big deals in 1960s Bombay – but what happens when Johnny becomes a thorn for the city’s smoothest powers?
REVIEW: It’s 1969 in a Bombay of Prohibition but no inhibition, with money in the sea breeze, land sharks cutting deals and gangsters carving up competition. Ambitious Johnny Balraj (Ranbir), dreaming of becoming a big shot, is used by ruthless magnate Kaizaad Khambata (Karan) to fix business and settle scores. Johnny adores jazz singer Rosie (Anushka) and with buddy Chiman (Satyadeep), manages Kaizaad’s Bombay Velvet nightclub where Rosie performs.
What happens when Rosie turns out to be a pawn of Jimmy Mistry (Manish), Khambata’s foe? And when the Mayor of Bombay (Siddharth) decides Johnny’s getting in his way?
Bombay Velvet is one of the most stylish-looking Hindi films, its glowing cinematography and sharp detailing presenting a heady, greedy city, full of nightmares and dreams. Its performances create an eye-catching vintage world – where Ranbir Kapoor smashes it as a Raj Kapoor-like Johnny Balraj. Ranbir’s melting eyes and goofy grin stay with you, as does his supple energy and suddenly steely jaw. Anushka impresses as Rosie, her wide-eyed, brittle sadness evoking Audrey Hepburn, wandering through Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Karan Johar is fun as wicked Khambata, giggling at Johnny’s English, responding to a union leader quoting ‘siddhant’ with a carelessly stylish “Who’s he?”, asking Johnny deadpan, “Rosie mein aisa kya dekha jo mujhmein nahin?” Kay Kay has a cool cop cameo while Vivaan Shah’s likeable as jolly chauffeur Tony.
The drama’s further enhanced by fabulous sound design, gorgeous jazz layered pulsatingly onto scenes of violence and love.
But Bombay Velvet has rough edges too. The film is so intensely stylized, it misses emotional pull. Certain sequences – like Johnny’s prize-fighting – feel stretched. At times, the editing simply races, without letting you feel anything, from Khambata’s jeers to Rosie’s tears, deeply enough.
The plot also wobbles between love story, crime saga, urban legend and corruption drama. Between lovers’ fights, gun-battles and newspaper wars, you’re thinking The. Godfather, Casablanca, Chicago – but you want to feel Bombay Velvet more.
Its cinematography and performances, particularly Ranbir’s edgy ‘big shot’, merit an extra half-star. But while Bombay Velvet is stylish, this fabric could have been smoother.