THELMA SCHOONMAKER CO-EDITED; SCORSESE THANKED IN OPENING CREDITS
Variety's Guy Lodge reviews "Anurag Kashyap's Bollywood ode to Hollywood gangsterism..."
Martin Scorsese is thanked in the opening credits of Bombay Velvet, but that’s far from the last time this splashy Bollywood gangster spectacular pays its respects. As it charts the corrupt historical development of Mumbai into a Western-styled megalopolis, Anurag Kashyap’s garish but engrossing film reflects the transition through blatant hat-tips to Hollywood crime cinema, ranging from Jimmy Cagney star vehicles to Scorsese’s own underworld sagas. The result — co-edited, no less, by the latter’s right-hand woman, Thelma Schoonmaker — may lack the charging formal brio of Kashyap’s 2012 Cannes sensation Gangs of Wasseypur, but it’s clear why the pic has already achieved substantial international distribution. Its Locarno festival date could usher in a second wave of cinephile appreciation.
“Our love story will be epic; our life, a smash hit,” our hero informs his paramour toward the end of a sprawling narrative that has already seen its fair share of drama writ large. It’s a line perfectly representative of a script that’s bigger on suds than subtlety, and hyper-conscious throughout of its medium — its every character living in a movie of their own making. When another states that “life is not Double Indemnity,” he’s only partially correct: Life, at least as Bombay Velvet knows it, simply follows a different frame of genre reference, as Kashyap packs proceedings with unveiled allusions to gangster-cinema touchstones. A recurring line of dialogue is appropriated from The Roaring Twenties (itself excerpted on screen), a climactic shootout slavishly restages Brian De Palma’s Scarface, and so on and so forth.
Some may see this as idle pastiche, though it aptly reflects the characters’ own painstaking attempts at occidental self-styling: Young street punk Balraj (Ranbir Kapoor, grandson of golden-age Bollywood idol Raj) is rechristened “Johnny” when he begins work as a lackey for a sharp-suited local crime lord, ultimately managing the American Art Deco-style jazz club that gives the film its name. (Not for nothing, in this ersatz world of spangly imitation, does Bombay Velvet also sound like a cut-price brand of gin.) A sizable portion of the film’s heavily knotted plot, meanwhile, revolves around the aggressive urban planning of Mumbai’s city center in the 1960s and 1970s, whereby land was reclaimed from the sea for an overtly Manhattan-aping CBD.