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Once Upon A Time In Mumbai is based on the underworld scene of the 70s, ruled by Sultan Mirza- A character based on Haji Mastan. It's a film that explores the power that Sultan Mirza holds on all Mumbai, his love story with film actress Rehana and his rise and fall with rebel sidekick, Shoaib, who is modeled on young Dawood Ibrahim.
This is a film about Bombay, not Mumbai. It's a story about a smuggler, his lady love and his sidekick, and it's a rather filmy story. The movie is set in Bombay of the 70s, a Bombay that was slowly becoming the financial capital of the country, a Bombay that was home to everything filmy: including the underworld. Everything in the movie is larger than life, the dialogues are almost verse-like, the clothes are loud (it's the 70s!), the heroine's makeup is loud and what is most vivid is the romanticism of being a powerful don. The power play and slick narrative takes the audience in a roller coaster ride of one man's rise, another man's fall and a strong attempt to be stylish at it.
The movie is told to us through the eyes of DCP Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda), where he tells us about Sultan Mirza, the most powerful don who arrived in Mumbai with the sea as a small innocent boy, who grew up to become a good-hearted don. It is clear that Sultan Mirza owns the city, loves the city and calls it his Mehbooba. Which is why he helps the poor and becomes a god like figure for them. The character of Sultan Mirza is precise and Ajay Devgan plays it with utmost conviction. He does a good job because we've seen him play a similar character in Company and he still manages to bring a sense of freshness to the character.
Through DCP Agnel Wilson's memory we are told of Sultan's rise to power, how he respects the city by only smuggling material goods and not drugs, his love story with film star Rehana (Kangana Ranaut) and his discovery in Shoaib (Emraan Haashmi). His love story is as filmy as it gets, with a corny courtship period which lasts for 3 minutes, cheesy dialogues and song/dance routine albeit with a mature fading into the larger context of the film. Kangana is demure and looks the part of a 70s film star with all the bling and glitz. Emraan on the other hand, plays a younger Dawood Ibrahim in all sincerity. He is cheeky, arrogant and smooth in his ways, and serves as a good contrast to the mature Sultan Mirza. His determination to rule Mumbai and become the greatest power, gives us a dramatic look into what we see now, in the form of international terrorism via Dawood Ibrahim.
The problem with the film comes when there seems to be not much of a build up between the king and his sidekick, as seen brilliantly in Company. Both character of Sultan and Shoaib are built very well, but the conflict is not acted out much after the intermission. More emphasis is given on punch lines for dialogues, which get tiring after a point. As an audience member, you expect more action than dialogues, and while the first half seems promising, the latter part of the film, including the climax, don't match up to the decently carved out first half. Kangana's character takes a backseat, Ajay Devgan becomes repetitive and Emraan becomes a cheeky slave to power, to a point of no belief.
The performances are immaculate as they go with the overall feel of the film, it doesn't seem stale and convinces you in parts. Randeep Hooda is a raw change, in his confidence as a police officer, Ajay Devgan and Emraan Hashmi are cogent in their parts, but the film loses it edge through a script that creates a void with it's hurried climax and falling second half. Even the though the movie is out and out dramatic, at points the dialogues become too theatrical. Kangana seems sparkly and filled with potential but suddenly loses her screen presence in all the rush to make a drama out of a very narrate-able story.
The background score is appealing, but the music seems a bit forgettable. The movie's obvious strong points are Ajay Devgan, apt characterization and a good story which could have churned out a better climax. Watch Once Upon A Time In Mumbai for the love of Bombay, Ajay Devgan, an entertaining story and don't expect to blown away.
This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.