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This is not a review of Bombay Velvet. Because whatever I say about Bombay Velvet doesn’t matter to you at all. You’ve already made up your mind about how you feel about Bombay Velvet, even especially if you haven’t seen it, because you have read gossip about the film’s edit issues before its release, or you’ve read Komal Nahta’s tweet about how two shows of the film got cancelled in the morning, or you’ve read a review of the film by critics who were ‘let down’ by this film.
For that matter, you have decided that no matter what others say, you will like this film because you are a Ranbir fan, an Anushka fan, or an Anurag Kashyap fan (are there any left though?). You may like it because everyone’s disliking it and you are a hipster, or you may like it because of the amazing irony of how a Rs 100 crore budget film has become an underdog. You may just like it because your expectations were lowered by the reviews of critics or your friends, and now you don’t find the film *that* bad.
It’s beside the point that I loved the film and its characters and its setting and the outstanding music, it’s pointless reviewing Bombay Velvet because invariably, I must belong to one or more of the sects I mentioned in the previous paragraph, perhaps without even knowing it. Because clearly, no one’s reviewing movies anymore, everyone’s reviewing their expectations of it.
Expectations vs the Film
Let me attempt to explain: When was the last time we walked into a movie theater without any expectations from the film whatsoever? Even if we didn’t have high expectations of the film, we certainly didn’t have no expectations else why would we spend your hard earned money and our precious time watching the film?
The reason we had these expectations (as little as they may be) is because we liked the trailer of the movie, or we like the actors in it, or the director of it or because it came recommended to us by a critic or a friend. So the film ultimately either lived up to these expectations, or fell short of them, and our opinion on the movie is an outcome of that. That’s largely how it’s always been when it comes to movie watching but ever since social media has happened to our lives, our expectations have started getting skewed much more sharply than ever before. With the groundswell of opinions on every movie, especially if they are STRONG and LOUD (whether positive or negative), our expectations have *become* our review of the movie. Think about it, we now rarely feel any different after watching a movie from what is being said about the movie, or the opinion we formed about it beforehand.
We already liked Piku before we entered the theater to watch it because EVERYONE LOVED IT. We were already impressed by the excellence of Court because EVERYONE WAS IMPRESSED BY IT. We were already disappointed with Detective Bymokesh Bakshy because EVERYONE WAS LET DOWN BY IT. We were already blown away by Fast and Furious because EVERYONE WAS BLOWN AWAY BY IT. Perhaps you are one of the rare people who felt the opposite for every movie I mentioned or you genuinely liked/disliked the previous movies and that has nothing to do with ‘everyone’. The truth, as they say, is probably somewhere in between.
The curse of being Anurag Kashyap
Let me put it another way: What if Court was made by Anurag Kashyap? What is Piku was made by Sajid Khan? What if Byomkesh Bakshy was made by Chaitanya Tamhane? What if Fast and Furious was made by Michael Bay? What if Bombay Velvet was made by Anand Gandhi? Just think over this for a second. Would we still feel exactly the same about these movies? More importantly, would the *critics* feel the same way about them? Of course we wouldn’t. Because somewhere, we can’t disassociate the filmmaker from the film and that is true even moreso for critics.
Prove me wrong by showing me a review of Bombay Velvet that does not talk about Anurag Kashyap’s ambitions with this film, the film compared to his other work, the film with respect to other gangster film, the budget of the film, the expected box office, the negative buzz around it, etc etc etc. You’d be surprised if you find a review that only talks about the film and nothing else but the film because Anurag Kashyap is intricately linked to this film, but is that really fair? Why isn’t it only about the film anymore?
If you completely disagree with me on this, here’s another perspective: What if Woody Allen, who has been accused of being a pedophile, gets convicted? You’d certainly not be inclined to revere him as a person but would it have any bearing on what you think of him as a director? But that’s actually immaterial, to be honest, because the only question that matters is: would it change the way you feel about his films? Will Annie Hall make you feel any differently or will you love Midnight in Paris any less, knowing that the director behind him may not be a very good man? It won’t and it shouldn’t because it *really* doesn’t matter who has made a film. Only your connection to it matters.
But that may not be true in the case of critics in the internet age. I read the reviews of a few critics who found Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar mildly enjoyable and gave it around 2.5 stars. I saw the film and it definitely didn’t suck as much as every other south remake but 2.5 stars? Bombay Velvet has got 2.5 stars. Byomkesh Bakshy got 2.5 stars. Are Gabbar and Bombay Velvet/Byomkesh Bakshy at the same level in ANY way? I’m not trying to be a condescending asshole or a cacophonous fanboy (although that’s beside the point too because you’ve already made up your mind either way, haven’t you?). What I’m trying to say is: Did Gabbar make you FEEL for even one second? What did you take back home after watching Gabbar? On the other hand – are you saying NOTHING in Bombay Velvet or Byomkesh made you feel? You took back NOTHING after watching them?
I’m not at all comparing popcorn films with ‘cinema’ and trying to draw a fail parallel. Because I LOVE popcorn cinema. Absolutely LOVE it. Because the best popcorn cinema also makes you FEEL – it could any feeling from awe and joy to aww and joy. (If you get the time, please do read this piece by Sady Doyle on popcorn cinema; possibly the best written article on cinema this year: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/marvel-killing-the-popcorn-movie/). Gabbar didn’t make me feel, neither do any of the umpteen other South remakes. Avengers (not part 2) did make me feel though, as did The Fault in our Stars in the same way that a Dhoom 3 and 2 States made me feel *something*. They are the epitome of popcorn films but I took away something back home after watching them. I took away something from Bombay Velvet and Byomkesh too, but nothing from Gabbar. Yet they are all given a star rating of 2.5 stars and to be honest, that blows my mind.
I am not calling out critics too (I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how am I to say my opinion is better than yours?) but I do have a problem with criticism connected with expectations. Because I fail to understand how ratings can be flexible according to expectations. The reason Gabbar got 2.5 was because the reviewers went into theaters expecting to see an absolutely horrible film but were surprised that it didn’t suck THAT BAD. On the other hand, Byomkesh got 2.5 because the reviewers were expecting to be blown away but that didn’t happen; and Bombay Velvet got 2.5 stars because the reviewers expected to be let down and that’s exactly what happened. I admit, some of this is informed from my understanding of criticism because I was a ‘critic’ for a while for Firstpost.com and to be honest, I occasionally suffered from the same issues too.
It may have been JUST me and perhaps I wasn’t qualified enough to be an opinion-giver (‘critic’ is too strong a word to my liking), and I may be ENTIRELY wrong and presumptuous about internet criticism (because criticism without the support of the internet today does not exist). But the truth is, it was only after I left my opinion hat at home and started watching films as a filmbuff that I began to see them for what they are. My feelings towards any film, now, are based on what I feel *because* of the film, or if I feel because of it at all. It has nothing to do with the perception of the film or the cast and the crew.
Why Bombay Velvet cannot be left to die
I loved Bombay Velvet. I didn’t connect with it in the first thirty minutes at all, but then I was slowly pulled in by it and by the end of it, I had been wholly consumed by all the complexity at play – the class divide of Khambatta and Balraj, the love story of Johnny and Rosie, the angst of Balraj to rise above his so-called aukaad, the loyalty of Chiman, and all else. The music was the true champion of the film and Amit Trivedi’s OUTSTANDING score interpreted on film is reason alone to watch this film. I loved the world of the film created by its superlative cast (Ranbir, Anushka, Satyadeep, Karan and Kay Kay took my breath away) and crew, and contrary to what many have said, I felt that the film didn’t reach its full potential because of the edit, done by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and Prerna Saigal.
In the first thirty minutes, to give the film a certain pace and atmosphere, what I felt were crucial scenes of romance between Rosie and Johnny weren’t allowed to breathe and were cut off just when they needed that little pause for us to feel deeper. The uneven pace of the film throughout is its biggest downfall and somewhere, there is a director’s cut which could be 3 hours long but which I suspect I may love more. But I still love Bombay Velvet, but as I had mentioned upfront, what I think of the film doesn’t even matter.
The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too?
Hence my opinion of Bombay Velvet is immaterial. What matters is what *you* think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.
Do not let the internet kill Bombay Velvet. Do not let the internet kill movies.
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