Among my favourite scenes in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet is the one where Anushka Sharma’s Rosie Noronha follows Ranbir Kapoor’s Johnnie Balraj out of the jazz club and watches him kill a photographer who claimed he had nude pictures of her. It was a mad scene, the kind you can only appreciate with a suspension of disbelief that gangster films demand of you— your gal will still be yours if she watches you club someone to death. But the scene replays itself in the mind days after, especially because of Rosie’s gown — a floor-sweeper made entirely of pearls.
It takes you back to Chanel’s couture dress from 2011, which Keira Knightley had worn for a film premiere. It was that one-of-a-kind dress, a knee-length frock beaded entirely of pearls, that can change the way a tide flows in one instant. Like Rosie’s, it had pearl strings for sleeves.
It is a rare film when you remember what the actor is wearing during a particular scene. Like Simi Garewal’s fur collar in Karz. Or Neetu Singh’s white cape dress in Kabhi Kabhi. These images are embedded in the mind’s eye. But in Bombay Velvet, you recall almost every outfit from every scene. The film’s costume designer Niharika Bhasin Khan has stolen the show before. In The Dirty Picture, she was as much the hero as Vidya Balan. And Band Baaja Baraat was just perfect in showcasing West Delhi’s roots and wings.
For Raveena Tandon’s jazz diva character, Khan made her a dress entirely of peacock feathers. At the apogee of her success at the club, Anushka’s Rosie wore a sequinned and beaded gown with a train that weighed 35 kilos. The camera followed the train from the wings to the spotlight like an obsessive lover.
Khan had around 10,000 costumes made for this film by designers as brilliant as Varun Bahl, Urvashi Joneja, Swapnil Shinde (who executed that beauteous pearl gown), Shivan Narresh, and Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna. There were 35 pieces of beautiful theatrical head gear, over 300 hats and almost 100 rabbit shoes. Anushka Sharma’s wardrobe alone consisted of 80 dresses.
Like most period films, Bombay Velvet exploits its ’20s and ’40s inspired costumes to the hilt. Kashyap must have known that the film’s visual appeal will be its strength. What he didn’t know is that the sets (by Kazvin Dangor and Rose Maria Tharakan), the cinematography (Rajeev Ravi) and the costumes will override its simple story and linear narrative. The film is enjoyable for sure, but the artists behind the scenes take it to a level of beauty seen only in very special films. It’s like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, where despite the talented Leo DiCaprio and a classic for a plot, the film looks too beautiful to be true.
Sometimes we watch a film for its performances. Sometimes we visit movie theatres for a film’s CGI experiments. Often it’s the film’s story that draws us to it. But Bombay Velvet, despite its box-office skinny, is a film that we must watch for its ode to beauty, to art deco, to style and to couture.