‘Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai’ Is An Average Tale

July 30, 2010 3:57 pm by

Director: Milan Luthria
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangna Ranaut, Prachi Desai, Randeep Hooda
Rating: ★★1/2

The disclaimer at the beginning of Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai dissociates the film from Haji Mastan, whose daughter tried to stop the release of the movie. Of course, almost everyone who goes to see it is expecting a chronicle of the smuggling king’s life and times. Indeed, the film takes us back to the 1970s to trace the rise of Sultan Mirza (Devgn), a man who makes his fortune smuggling gold and electronics into the country. His story is juxtaposed with that of his protégé Shoaib Khan (Hashmi), a character believed to be based on Dawood Ibrahim, who nurtures dreams of becoming a bigger don than his mentor, even if it means usurping him. The film attempts to depict a more a humane side of gangster life, with considerable screen time devoted to the female love interests, Mirza’s moll, film star Rehana (Ranaut) and Shoaib’s girlfriend Mumtaz (Desai).

Unfortunately, though director Milan Luthria, with the help of art director Nitin Desai and costume designers Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma, succeeds in capturing the look and feel of the 1970s perfectly, Rajat Aroraa’s flawed script results in a film that is more style than substance. Everything from the clothes to the advertising posters in the background are true to the era, and Luthria’s visual effects team digitally cleans up the scenes shot at Marine Drive and the Gateway of India to remove structures that weren’t around in that decade. But  there are far too many loopholes in the story, which is narrated through the character of Assistant Commissioner of Police Agnel Wilson (Hooda).

The film starts powerfully enough; we learn that ACP Wilson has just tried committing suicide. Yet we aren’t provided with an adequate explanation as to why he was moved to take such a step. Similarly, we’re left wondering why Rehana’s terminal illness is never referred to again after it leads to Sultan’s decision to enter politics. Or why Shoaib’s father, a police constable, pleads with Sultan to take his son under his wing.

Of the cast, it’s only Devgn who holds your attention. He doesn’t play Sultan very differently from the way he portrayed Mallik (whose character was said to based on Dawood Ibrahim) in Company (2002); but he infuses his portrayal of the mafia don with a brooding intensity that most of his Bollywood contemporaries could never achieve. The sullen and angry mannerisms of Hashmi and Hooda, on the other hand, show them to be little more than Amitabh Bachchan wannabes.

The trailers and pre-release buzz for Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai promised a fast-paced thriller, but apart from a couple of clever capers—such as the sequence where the smugglers use the cars of the city’s elite to transport their contraband—the film never manages to engage the viewer. You’re left not particularly caring about the fate of the characters, nor learning anything new about the much documented mystique of Mastan.

Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai released Friday, July 30.