Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai - Movie Review


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Must watch it ONCE at least!

Can’t remember the last time I saw an underworld thriller having so little violence and yet such simmering, understated intensity that it was hard to take the eyes off the screen to admire other things in theatre. Three gunshots. Yes, three gunshots and some tight slaps and fisticuffs is all Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai has in the name of violence. There’s no cops n’ gangsters shootout, no flashy pyrotechnics, no nail-nibbling chases, no bloodbath and hardly any inter gang rivalry. Nothing of the sort we are used to seeing in crime capers by the self appointed gurus of the genre. Once Upon A Time gives us a glimpse into Mumbai’s underbelly like we’ve never witnessed on the silver screen before.

There is a scene where Sultan Mirza, the all-white-clad smuggler played by Ajay Devgan, is in a fix. He’s taken on a smuggling assignment but can’t pull it through because the doggedly determined ACP Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda) has put up check posts at every crossing. Sitting in his lair, Sultan is surrounded by a bunch of lackeys, including the new recruit Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi), the insolent, overambitious, unscrupulous wannabe who hopes to step into the don’s shoes one day. Suggestions fly thick and fast. But Sultan silently puffs on his ciggy. He hears everyone out quietly, inhales and exhales smoke. His eyes flit from one crony to the next, and rest on Shoaib. The young wannabe steps up and takes the job. Sultan’s penetrative glance weighs him. You expect a punchy dialogue from Sultan, but none comes. What flashes rather is a slight grin on the don’s face. No word is spoken, yet all is said.

It’s these little masterstrokes that make Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai a film worth experiencing once at least. And the credit goes as much to actors as to the director Milan Luthria who takes us back to the 1970s, the era of bell-bottoms and sideburns when revolvers were a rarity and automatic pistols a thing of the future. It’s in this decade that an orphan rises from ruins to become the uncommon crime lord of Mumbai, who believes in making friends than enemies, and is an urban Robinhood to the city’s poor. But his rise and reform is halted by a hot-headed upstart.

Storywriter Rajat Aroraa’s protagonist is as human as one gets. Sultan is the smuggler with a conscience that considers the poor and a heart that throbs for an actress (Kangana Ranaut) whom he woos with a guava and wins over after a bit of persuasion. And there’s the anti-hero Shoaib (Emraan) who hasn’t as much as a scruple in his overconfident, calculative and sly head. Even his love for Mumtaz (Prachi Desai) isn’t without manipulations.

These characters, however well etched, wouldn’t have worked if not for stellar performances by the duo of Ajay Devgan and Emraan Hashmi. Arguably, this is Devgan’s best till date. His silences, his seething expressions, piercing gazes, reflective musings lend tons of gravitas to Sultan Mirza. Pitched opposite him, Emraan Hashmi holds his place well with a finely nuanced performance. The best bit about Hashmi’s Shoaib is the insolence that the actor brings out in the character. Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai deliver well from the sidelines, while Randeep Hooda, as the narrator of the piece, shines with a confident act.

Kudos to Milan Luthria for putting together a film that’s farm fresh despite its underworld theme that’s been dead and mummified. The direction is pretty tight, but how one wishes the dialogues had been less expository. A lot of times in the film, the characters speak a language that’s hardly conversational and more of Salim-Javed genre. Perhaps an ode to the two greats! Music isn’t great shakes either, but what wins your heart is the lilting leitmotif that keeps warbling in the background throughout the running time of the movie.

Once Upon A Time is indeed worth your time and money. It’s a film from which even the likes of Ram Gopal Varma can learn a thing or two.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5