Directed by: Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut, Prachi Desai, Randeep Hooda
My rating: destroy every copy – horrible – bad – whatever – flawed but enjoyable - good – great – amazing
What can a director responsible for overhyped Dirty Picture do with a bunch of actors I would rank from „not interested“ to „dislike“ do? Surprisingly a film I really enjoyed. I have been ignoring this one for quite some time (Why? Read the first line!) but as a person who always insists on watching original before a remake and prequel before a sequel I finally sat down and hit the play button. I knew the film was quite acclaimed, but public opinion rarely sounds in tune with my own sentiments.
From time to time there is nothing better than a good Bollywood gangster flick and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai has ticked every bracket needed to be good. Dark, but never gruelsome or lingering too much on the nasty effects of criminal activity, OUTIM is more or less a masala with a heart, in spite of being a gangster tale, and set in very attractively presented setting of 70s and 80s, thus evoking bit of that nostalgy everybody likes too.
Inspired by real events (at least I found it described like) the film revolves around an idea that criminals and their crimes are of different nature depending on what they have in heart and mind. A willful, ambitious kid that has a secure home grows up to be a selfish and self-loving individual hungry for power, while the one whose attention and approval he seeks came literally out of nothing and while he managed to become the „king“ of the Mumbai underworld his actions are dictated by his selflessness and love for common folk. One is a smuggler, the other is a killer. The interaction and play-off between larger-than-life yet level-headed Sultan (Ajay Devgn) and impulsive, as well as somehow childish, immature Shoaib is the backbone of the film, which in the end gets broken and leaves you a bit numb for a while.
The film has a nice, tight screenplay, that is not weighted down even by two romantic sub-tracks, which bring further understanding of what men the main protagonists actually are. The relationship between Sultan and a Bollywood star played by Kangana Ranaut (I suppose a character created to remind us of notorious Mandakini) is based on caring and love, Shoaib´s selfishness and possessiveness has the upper hand in his love life. His girlfriend (Prachi Desai) is more or less seen as his property, bending to his wishes even when she doesn´t like them or are simply unacceptable to her own mindset.
The film´s strengths are above all good script and performance by Ajay Devgn. Dressed in white, he embodies a towering figure in the game of power, and has an aura of invincibility. He carries the film on his shoulders and charisma and doesn´t make a false step. Emraan Hashmi, whom I just cannot like for whatever reason, is good enough, mostly because he IS supposed to be unlikeable. Kangana and Prachi both play their roles convincingly, even though Kangana´s dialogue delivery and voice will always be a problem. Special mention goes to special cameo by Randeep Hooda, another guy I don´t really care for in general, but like him here.
Once Upon a Time in Mumbai has its share of flaws and illogical moments (why in the world would you need to deconstruct a railway track just so a lorry can ride over it?), and it is not the most exciting gangster movie out there either. But it works, has solid performances and superb music, as well as that already mentioned pleasant vintage touch.