Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Once Upon A Time in Mumbai: Blast into the past
Milan Luthria’s “Once Upon A Time in Mumbai” is a mostly-gripping, but dumbed-down mafia thriller that focuses on two men who dominated the Mumbai underworld for the most part of the seventies and eighties.
Despite denials from the makers of the film, it is easy to see that the story is based on underworld don Haji Mastan and his one-time protégé Dawood Ibrahim.
Luthria takes us back to the era of handlebar moustaches, bell bottomed pants and the Mumbai of the 70′s, which, if you live in South Mumbai, doesn’t seem vastly different from what it is now.
Ajay Devgan plays smuggler Sultan Mirza, who is like a modern day Robin Hood who, we are told, controls all of Mumbai. He gives hundreds of rupees to beggars, takes care of his men and smuggles “only things that the government doesn’t permit, not things that my conscience doesn’t allow”.
In order to stop his illegal activities, an upcoming police officer (Randeep Hooda) uses the old trick of using one criminal against the other, allowing a young upstart, Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi), to infiltrate Mirza’s gang and gain his confidence, sure that Shoaib’s own ambition of ruling Mumbai will ensure a clash between the two.
As he tells a fellow police officer, “When two trains are on opposite sides of the same track, there is bound to be a clash, but I only want the track clean, I don’t care about the trains.”
This is just one of the many dialogues that make the film worth a watch. Written by Rajesh Arora, the film is littered with clever gems which will make you laugh and sit up and take note.
Luthria also keeps up a fairly even pace, so you aren’t bored. I do wish he hadn’t concentrated on the love tracks of the two men, and focus instead on their equation with each other and the circumstances that built them.
We hardly see anything of Sultan’s rise to the top, which is finished off in a couple of flashback sequences, while Luthria spends at least 20 minutes and two songs to his love affair with Rehana (Kangana Ranaut, who needs diction lessons urgently).
Also, a lot of the situations are simplified, including the heists that the two pull off that reeks of a dumbed-down script.
Ajay Devgan shines in the more restrained performance of the two male leads, putting in the right amount of aggression and angst when needed.
Emraan Hashmi is a good foil to the former, but the two female leads Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai have one-dimensional characters with nothing to do but act as sounding boards for the men in their lives as they rant and rave about each other.
This film did have the potential to be great, but it stops short of that. As it stands though, this is a good enough film, one that has quite a lot going for it.