Cast: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut
Director: Milan Luthria
Despite its dhinchak background score and colorful palette, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai is a less stylish film than Ramgopal Varma's Company, whose basic plot it so closely resembles.
Director Milan Luthria revisits the familiar tale of a powerful don and his fallout with his ambitious protege. In setting the film in the 70s, Luthria borrows much of that period's cinematic style. Every line is a punch line, every dialogue a clap-trap. The nostalgia is enjoyable initially, and the film successfully evokes the spirit of those Amitabh Bachchan starrers of the 70s. But you become numb to the impact of the dialogues when even supporting characters and bit players speak in clever quips.
Playing a character loosely inspired by Haji Mastan, Ajay Devgan stars as Sultan, a swaggering smuggler who divides the city into zones, allocating one each to his rivals, and assigning the sea to himself for plunder. The uncharacteristically principled Sultan becomes the reigning don of the city, until his supremacy is challenged by greedy upstart Shoaib (played by Emraan Hashmi), a character modeled after the young Dawood Ibrahim.
Relying more on treatment than content, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai moves along at a leisurely pace, its central conflict showing up only after intermission. Movies set in the underworld suck you in with their authentic feel and innate drama, but to be honest, drama and action are conspicuous by their absence in this film.
Take the scene in which Sultan approaches film actress Rehana (played by Kangana Ranaut), hoping to woo her with a fruit. It's a terrific, original idea for a romantic scene, unfortunately never fully exploited for its dramatic potential. Even the film's tense climax is ultimately ruined, overrun as it is by a lofty political bhashan.
Of the cast, Randeep Hooda oozes sufficient confidence as the cop determined to save the city from the clutches of these dangerous men. Kangana Ranaut is a tad awkward in the role of a gangster's moll, although there is tenderness in the love between her and Devgan's character. Emraan Hashmi puts in a sincere turn as Shoaib, but he lacks the charisma that stalks a ruthless don, or the recklessness and urgency of a small-time gangster climbing the ladder.
The film's biggest strength is unquestionably Ajay Devgan who brings freshness to a part we've seen so many times before. He has a scorching presence, and he knows how to use it. Watch the imperious tone Devgan takes as he asks a lackey to clean up the city after Hashmi's ruthless dealings. Or the scene in which he comes up with witty replies to his girlfriend's riddles when she's unpacking the gifts she's brought him for his birthday.
Devgan's performance rises above the rather ordinary canvas of this film, but Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai never quite hits the mark, or matches the standards set by previous underworld movies like Company, Satya or Nayagan.
I'm going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Milan Luthria's Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai. The film is watchable and enjoyable in parts even, but it doesn't quite pull off the retro chic tone it was going for. Gangsta Rap? More like Gangsta Nap!
Rating: 2.5 / 5