[ Spoilers ahead ]
People who have a fascination for history and movies love nothing but an accurate portrayal. That’s the reason I was uncomfortable ever since I heard about Ashutosh Gowariker’s upcoming Mohenjo Daro. Though there are reasons to anticipate a good handling from Gowariker (Lagaan and Swades were brilliant stories before recent, relatively speaking, slouches), but do we really need a love story set in the times of Indus Valley Civilization? More so, is it artistically possible to create a believable love story? The people who can pull it off leaving the history intact and showing us ample amounts of the history are a rare breed.
When it comes to Anurag Kashyap, you sure can expect wonders. After all, this was post independence Bombay, a non-judgmental city throbbing with excitement, commerce, post colonial affluence, crime and scandals. This story deserved a Kashyap telling. That is, if there was a story. Gyan Prakash (writer of Mumbai Fables, the book that loosely inspired Bombay Velvet) chronicled the city from its inception to recent times, but there was no story. What Kashyap and his team set out for was to weave a story incorporating the elements from Bombay and shaping it up, desi noir style. Bombay Velvet does manage a story, but just about it.
Anushka’s Rosie Noronha is not a jazz singer that we can carry with us. Her portrayal was surprisingly shadowed by the other singer we see on two occasions. There were enough chances for her to act and express, but, save few occasions, she could just play herself. A better actor would have enlivened the scene when Johnny confronts Rosie about her pictures that some photographer had clicked, or the scenes where she tries to convince him to move away from Bombay. But Anushka doesn’t live up to it. I liked Ranbir Singh as Johnny Balraj and Karan Johar as Kaizad Khambata. But if one person has really delivered, it’s Amit Trivedi. The movie opens up with stimulating music and sets the tone. Throughout the two and half hour saga, the music doesn’t disappoint. The typical Kashyap action scenes come alive with racy music. Talking of the Kashyap, the chase-manhunt sequence near the end is something to watch out for. After a shootout, a heavy breath laden telephone conversation between Johnny and Kaizad is a gem. Such moments restore our faith in Kashyap, specially since the movie takes a long time to set the stage for climactic events. The violence and the gun shots are very real. Rare close-ups like that of a kidnapped Deshpande in a car in a dark alley are brilliant.
The issues of Bombay of the times (mill workers’ unrest, Backbay Reclamation) are pushed to the side in the attempt to show a connected story. There are glimpses of Fearless Nadia posters and mentions of Lloyd and Nariman. But these issues just seem to add colour to the story. In my opinion, they would have made strong plot points. But they reminded me of the constantly on-the-streets people of Ranjhana’s Varanasi – just a flavour, not the meat. Depiction of politics and the power play leave us wanting for more. Though the research and detailing is impeccable, a little too much subtlety is practised while showing off that research.
There are the other characters, like a hat sporting inspector Kay Kay Menon. The relationship between him and Johnny is a love-hate one, the kind that Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio played in Catch Me If You Can. Coincidentally, Hanks too sported a hat and carried a gun. In Bombay Velvet, when the Commissioner shoots Johnny, Menon’s character betrays helplessness. He is an inspector who believes in the system (partly; Kashyap’s characters are never that plain) and when he sees his senior killing Johnny for the “bigshots”, he is disappointed. Did he get accustomed to a living, breathing Johnny? I don’t know. The angle is explored only slightly and Menon plays his part well. Of course Spielberg delved more into it and that episode of Hanks reminding DiCaprio that the reason he called him on Christmas is because there was no one else to talk to is what legendary filmmakers are made of. Anurag Kashyap has been there, but this offering is not the best he is capable of.