Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai review
Director: Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangna Ranaut, Prachi Desai and Randeep Hooda
Milan Luthria, who showed promise with his earlier films like Kachche Dhaage and Taxi No 9211, takes a Ram Gopal Varma subject, and treats it how a Karan Johar would. Over-stylised and shallow, the film serves old wine in a new bottle, with none of the grittiness and punch that one saw in gangster flicks like Satya and Company. And even if it tries to be different in tone, it doesn't have the class of a Johnny Gadaar. Luthria peddles a less than serviceable script, perhaps hoping its period details will keep it interesting for the audiences. It tries to capture the zeitgeist of the 70s as seen in Deewar and Trishul, but the setting comes off as too staged - the result being that the film moves in a self-conscious manner, with stock, one-dimensional characters and relentless dialogue-baazi, that is the single-most irritating part of the film.
The year is somewhere in the 70s. Sultan (Ajay Devgn) grows up as a poor, but large-hearted man, who slowly but surely rises up the ranks in Mumbai's underworld - which the film insists - wasn't all that bad then. The goons had a heart and loved the city. So even if Sultan smuggled items and participated in petty crimes, he made sure that Mumbai remained clean from crime. The film keeps re-asserting Sultan's largess and his essential goodness with literal scenes like him distributing cash to beggars at traffic signals and so on. He falls in love with an actress, Rehana (Kangana Ranaut), who he woos until she finally gives in. Sultan has no real enemies and all seems fine. The only minor irritant being an inspector (Randeep Hooda), who keeps issuing threats of arresting him, but never does so. Things change after an upstart, Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi) joins the gang. He has none of Sultan's morals, and once he assumes some power, things go haywire, and herein are sowed the seeds of Mumbai's infamous and gruesome gang-wars.
The subject had potential, but save for a few scenes, the script has little novelty. Also, the three main relationships in the film don't touch a chord. The Ajay-Kangana romance is insipid. The Prachi (Desai)- Emraan track is better fleshed-out, but there is a sense of deja vu. The worst is the Ajay-Emraan pairing; they don't connect as characters at all. It seems odd that a sensible guy like Sultan would hand over the reigns of his gang to a trouble-maker like Shoaib. Omkaara, Company, Satya - all had this angle, and it was deftly handled. Here, Shoaib's accent is forced and unconvincing.
Once Upon a Time....is a designer gangster flick, which could have still been watchable, if there hadn't been such an onslaught of smart-alecky dialogues. All the characters spout cringe-worthy lines, that grow progressively desperate in trying to evoke a response from the audience. The writers have obviously tried to match writers of the yore, but they end up with stuff that's so poor, Salim-Javed would disown to have written them even in their sleep. Sample some of the gems - 'mera mizaaj aur mera message Sultan tak pahuncha dena' 'Aaj ka kam kal pe rakhoonga, toh aaj bura maan jayega' ' Jo mauka chodd de woh kaisa mard' The dialogues really interfear with the experience of watching the film.
On performances, Emraan's character is the only one which stands out. It's not particularly fresh or nuanced, but it makes an impression for the simple reason that no attempt has been made to redeem him or give him hero-like qualities. He is portrayed as a petty-minded, morally bankrupt, and an irascible crook. Emraan does well, but the limitations of the script and the lack of subtly on the whole, doesn't it make it a memorable role.
Ajay Devgn sleep-walks in a character that he played to perfection in Company. His body language is lethargic, and his courting scenes with Kangana are so half-heartedly done, you'd think he wants to get on to others scenes where he'd be left alone with his cigarette. The heroines have nothing much to do. As for Randeep Hooda, he has enough screen time, but the actor seems to have been embarrassed about not being considered one of the leads of the film and has accepted a 'special appearance' credit instead
Luthria really disappoints with Once Upon A Time... His direction is heavy-handed and unappealing.
The only person who shins is Pritam. All his tracks make an impression.
- Sandhya Iyer