Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Imran Khan
Director: Milan Luthria
Characters in Hindi movies tend to be more naïve than the audience that's watching them on screen. The audience will guess early on that the most earnest cop in the unit is the traitor who's been leaking information to the bad guy. Or that the person who talks about living life to the fullest will be diagnosed with a fatal condition. Or that two best friends who swear never to let anything come between them will find their relationship tested. The characters on screen are always the last to know; they invariably figure out these things well after the audience does. It's an accepted fact in storytelling.
Yet the three protagonists in 'Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara' aren't just naïve, they're plain stupid.
This disappointing sequel to 2010's Ajay Devgan-Emran Hashmi starrer is constructed around the premise of a love triangle...the laziest love triangle you could possibly imagine. Shoaib (Akshay Kumar) is a mob boss. Aslam (Imran Khan) is his loyal protégé. Both men develop feelings for struggling actress Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), who is close to Shoaib and Aslam. But Jasmin doesn't know that Shoaib is a don, or that Aslam works for him, or even that Shoaib has designs on her. Shoaib and Aslam, meanwhile, are unaware that they're both in love with the same girl. That's way too many clueless people in one film!
The earlier installment, also directed by Milan Luthria, was nicely evocative of 70s nostalgia helped no doubt by Ajay Devgan's insouciant take on a dreaded gangster. Akshay Kumar, on the other hand, replaces Devgan's sexy nonchalance with in-your-face flamboyance. Dark glasses perched permanently on his nose, puffing away on a cigarette, Akshay swaggers into the frame as Shoaib, offering the promise of a deliciously unapologetic anti-hero.
It doesn't help that writer Rajat Arora, as if to compensate for the flimsy plot, goes into overkill mode with wise-ass dialogues. Unlike the earlier film, which paid homage to the Salim-Javed era of memorable one-liners, this sequel is a full-fledged assault of rat-a-tat punch lines. When asked by a flunkie why he's recruited two young kids to join his gang, Shoaib responds: "Doodh mein nimboo jisne daala, paneer uski". On the changing face of the city, he says: "Yeh bambai, Kumkum se Kimi Katkar mein badal gayi hai", and on love he delivers this gem: "Pyaar aaj kal naukrani jaise ban gaya hai. Aata hai, bell bajata hai, kaam karke chala jaata hai."
If the love triangle isn't particularly compelling, it's because it's hard to get to the real emotions of the characters, buried as they are beneath all that cockiness. Imran Khan as Aslam, ostensibly the hero of this film, appears ill at ease rolling those corny lines off his tongue, and resembling a rich urban kid slumming it out as a tapori at a dress-up party. Sonakshi Sinha's Jasmine has got to be the most pea-brained woman you've ever met. She happily lets Shoaib rig awards for her, and thinks it's cute when he turns up on her set and halts shooting. She hangs out with him at his home, takes lifts with him in his car, but claims to be outraged when he says he has feelings for her. Fresh off her terrific performance in Lootera, Sonakshi constructs a singularly contemptible character in Jasmine. Akshay Kumar, for all those sinister threats, ultimately turns Shoaib into a laughable cliché. He goes on and on about being a villain, but we never see him get truly down and dirty.
The film does have a few strong bits, including an inspired cameo by Sonali Bendre, and a clever scene in which Shoaib walks into a police station intending to surrender himself. But these are small mercies in a major misfire as this. Too long at over 150 minutes, and way too predictable to ever surprise you, Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara is the equivalent of getting a root canal.
I'm going with one-and-a-half out of five. Call me cynical, call me a spoilt-sport, but don't call me if they decide to make Once Upon A Time in Mumbai 3!
Rating: 1.5 / 5
Yash Sharma, Mumbai
Raj Kumar, Mumbai
Vinay Tiwari, Delhi
Deval Faldu, Pune
Priyanka Tiwari, Gurgaon