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Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010) – Movie Review

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai poster

Written by: Rajat Arora
Directed by: Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut, Prachi Desai, Randeep Hooda

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai is about the life of gangsters who ruled the underworld in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1970s. It has Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai in the lead roles. It is loosely based on the life of gangster Haji Mastan (one which inspired cult classics like Deewar and Nayagan). There is a visible effort to make it different from the two previous classics by including inspirations from the life of the notorious gangster Dawood Ibrahim (something which the other two had not done). It is different from them and manages to hold on to its own for most of its running time, but does not manage to create anywhere near the impact.

The story told in flashback, is as seen through the eyes of ACP Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda) is about the rise of Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan) from being a child worker in a coal factory to becoming one of the most sought out gangsters in Bombay. He is a wanted man for smuggling, using the sea as his means of entry into Bombay. He basically smuggles electronics and other goods which are banned by the Government, however he enjoys a lot of goodwill and gets a lot of respect from the people as he helps out the poor and needy. He firmly believes in making friends out of enemies and preventing bloodshed–and he ensures there are no warring factions in the Bombay Underworld by making mutual settlements. Rehana (Kangana Ranaut), who is a top heroine of the time, is his love interest.

[ad#longpost]Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi) enters into his gang and he lusts for power, wanting to get rich quick. Shoaib dreams of taking over the entire Bombay Underworld. Mumtaz (Prachi Desai) is an innocent lower middle class girl working at the local jewelery store and is in love with him, though she is not totally aware of his activities. Though Shoaib considers Sultan his mentor, he is more desperate for power and believes in eliminating every other gangster to take sole ownership of the Bombay Mafia. As he grows stronger, both the master and the prodigy’s paths clash thanks to their different set of ideologies–and how that comes about and what happens to Bombay as a result of this clash, forms the main part of the story.

Coming to performances: Ajay Devgan is simply top class–his interpretation of the character and the aura he carries right through the movie is simply outstanding. The entire burden of the movie is totally shouldered by him and he delivers! He equals (if not overtakes) the intensity with which he played his character in RamGopal Verma’s Company. Kangana as the top heroine of yesteryear makes her presence felt and acts well–minor glitch is her performance in the dying moments of the movie–but overall, she is gracious and borrows her style heavily from the heroines of the 1970s. This is a plus given the character she is playing in the movie. Emraan Hashmi…well, this is where I felt the movie lacked a punch or two. He is strictly okay; he could have brought in more intensity to the performance–which the role demands. Given the meaty role, he just should have delivered better.

Prachi as the girl next door acts well in the short screen time she’s got. She looks stunning and emotes. Randeep Hooda is miscast as the ACP–he has a small but critical role, but his acting leaves a lot to be desired. The performance of the supporting cast is worth a mention: the one playing Sultan’s right hand man and Shoaib’s father as well as the kid playing Junior Shoaib are excellent. For Milan as a director, this is surely his best effort (matching Taxi no.9211). Directing Ajay (given his previous history with the actor) must have been a pleasure and it shows on screen! He gets the best out of him. However, he should have surely got more from Emraan. The film is edited well which was necessary for a movie of this genre, but the songs which appear miss the mark one too many times.

Story, dialogues and screenplay are by Rajat. Again, it’s all good, with general doses of inspiration from real life gangsters, but is nevertheless solid until we reach the Climax. That portion appears to be really lame but other movies have followed the same path. Dialogues are good; there are some extremely well written one-liners. Music has some commendable portions: “Pee-loon” stands out; the not-so-straight-forward remix of the 70s classic song “Monica O my darling” is good; there is a catchy number, “Baburao mast hai,” which appears forced into the mix. The background score is top class; it adds effect to the happenings on screen and surely deserves a mention.

Overall, it is a fine effort from the team, though it could have been more impactful and intense. The story, though predictable (thanks to the other classics which preceded it) is presented well. But the main problem with it is that it does not try to be realistic (like Company, which could be intentional) nor is it emotionally engaging (like Deewar or Nayagan). Go in with zero expectations and you should be surprised. Otherwise, prepare for slight disappointment.