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Bombay Velvet review: Mean, macho Ranbir Kapoor may bore you to death


So then there was Ranbir Kapoor - the most convincing human replica of a cupcake - in a mean black suit, his hair disheveled like potted plants in a sloppy gardener's balcony, his face scrunched in deep agony, charging at you with two machine guns blazing. If there was anything in the Bombay Velvet trailer, which was worth spilling your coffee over, this was it.
The idea was unsettling for some of us, perhaps as strange as Quentin Tarantino casting Po from Kung Fu Panda as the lead in one of his films.
Kapoor, who has an entire generation's women and some men, daydreaming about him more than their own partners, has so far played a textbook lover-boy. The one who makes everything from breaking a glorious tower of champagne glasses to twerking pant-less inside the shower legitimate acts in the business of being entirely too adorable. If there has been one human reaction that seems to have been set apart exclusively to qualify Kapoor, it is 'aww'. (You may add an extra 'w' depending on which film we are talking about in a scale of Sawaariya to Barfi!).
Bombay Velvet poster.
Bombay Velvet poster. now
So when the Tarantino, oops, Anurag Kashyap-version of Kapoor greeted us in the Bombay Velvet trailer, it felt as if you were to meet someone on a blind date. You would either want to spend your life with a cat after it, or just kidnap the man because that's completely practical when it comes to a few great men.
But Johnny Balraj (Kapoor's character) in Kashyap's lavish film, leaves you slightly flummoxed. Kapoor is a fabulous actor, so you can't dislike him. And the script backing him is so self-indulgent, that you can't like him completely either. So Balraj ends up being the nice guy date - whose only talent is killing people with boredom.
Balraj is a street fighter in Bombay of the '60s. Like several Bollywood hero characters before him, he migrated to Bombay after the partition and was consumed by the exercise of surviving. His mother turns into a prostitute and Balraj grows up in a brothel. There are some sketchy snatches of incidents like his mother getting beaten up and  running into street-fights as a child that signal Balraj is going to grow up into a thug. While working for a smuggler, Balraj runs into Rosie (Anushka Sharma) in a bar and instantly falls in love. Let's assume that it is plausible, since humans have been known to fall for Nutella too in the very first encounter.
Rosie, however, has no patience for a penniless thug and instead hooks up with Jamshed Mistry, a wealthy, middle-aged business man who runs a newspaper. Since Balraj is an anti-misogynist, so he is not really upset that Rosie chooses a man who looks like an expensive cupboard compared to him only because he has money. He decides he has to make money to get the girl and decides to rob a rich person from a bank.
Despite having been a thug all his life and worked with a smuggler, Balraj has the creativity of Cinderella. So he walks up behind a rich man leaving a bank, his hand covered with a handkerchief, assuming that the victim will mistake it for a gun. He says, "Bag de do" to the victim with the same intensity with which you ask for an extra sookha puri from thepaani puri vendor. The victim, understandably, is not terrified. More so because he is supposed to be the villain of this piece Kaizad Khambatta - Karan Johar with cat goggles, a cross between 'Loin' Ajit and south Bombay page 3 regular.
Khambatta is a real estate shark, who wants to change how Bombay looks. After several incidents, Balraj finds himself at odds with his godfather Khambatta and aspires to become a 'big shot' by himself, which is when things go downhill for him.
Oh, and yes, Khambatta opens a gorgeous bar called Bombay Velvet, where Rosie is hired as a singer and Balraj is the manager. No, since there was no Facebook then, Rosie couldn't have come running to Balraj figuring he has 'checked in to Bombay Velvet' and must be a man of some means now. Her earlier beau Mistry, sends her as a spy to snoop on Khambatta.
In this pool of swirling sub-plots, one thing that had the power to hold all of it together and make it engaging, was Balraj. However, it seems like Kashyap plunged into the aesthetic detailing of the period with so much passion that he forgot his characters wouldn't be beautiful just because he put them in scrupulously tailored suits that screams retro.
Now who is Johnny Balraj? A man who kills with the same ease that we take selfies? A man who loves Rosie almost petulantly? A man who is spurred by infinite ambition? Kashyap, makes him a chaat of a character, with no distinct texture, nothing that will crackle in your mouth or singe your tongue. Balraj is the alpha male in the tradition of a Chulbul Pandey, larger than life, for the greater half of the movie. What puts the fire in his belly? Or his heart? No one knows. Kashyap doesn't let any of the relationships in the films simmer long enough to develop a flavour. There is more chemistry between Rosie and her gowns than there is between her and Balraj.
Kahsyap spends most of the film establishing Balraj as the egotistic, pompous man, exuding the kind of machismo that is staple in Bollywood - the man who can shoot and sing with the same ease. What would have made Balraj's character fetching would be the treatment of his vulnerabilities and that's where Kashyap falters and expects us to get distracted by the gorgeous jazz music. What he can't make his character convince us, he wants the clever lyrics of his songs to. And that doesn't work.
The belief that Johnny Balraj is meant to be a posterboy of testosterone is further deepened by the fact that Rosie (played by Sharma) is reduced a being a beautiful prop, like the glittering chandeliers and rich wall-paper of Bombay Velvet. The Sharma of NH10  turns into a Snow White who needs to be zealously loved and saved from evil humans. All she does is to exist and look stunning, so that the hero's obsession with her can be explained. Bollywood much? Surely.
What makes Balraj a cliched Bollywood hero, instead of an engaging character, is the near absence of fear or anxiety. Have you ever seen the Singhams and Dabanggs of our tinsel world exude fear? Nope. Balraj, therefore, is the same, staggeringly impressive male whose is angry, when he is not busy obsessing about the woman he loves. He maybe gorgeous till the end, but he is hardly memorable. He is not human the way we know them to be.
Kapoor tries his best, but with skeletal writing to back him, he has to switch on and off Rockstar-mode to keep us engaged. And Karan Johar is entirely too busy being Karan Johar to make Khambatta seem like a villain.
And the catch here is, we don't watch a Dabangg wanting Chulbul Pandey to make sense. We, however, wanted Johnny Balraj to speak to us. And he merely whimpered.
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