Most gangster films have something about them which is intriguing. It's perhaps the larger-than-life image of the characters (gangsters), which is very alluring. Be it SATYA, COMPANY or BLACK FRIDAY, all have hit the right notes with the audiences. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI is no exception and comes as a respite after a bundle of flops in the recent past. Post RAAJNEETI, it's good to see Ajay Devgn back in action with his one liners and intense facial expressions. Milan Luthria, with this one, makes a great impact as a story teller. The retro theme of the film makes one nostalgic experience with great dialogues reminding you of the glorious Amitabh Bachchan days in DEEWAR.
Coming back to OUATIM... the film traces the life of Sultan (Ajay Devgn) from the day he lands up on the shores of Bombay (it was Bombay back in the post independence era) as a kid. He wants to make it big in life. As he grows up, he takes up smuggling and soon becomes a force to reckon with. But he has his own set of principles. Jab dost banane se kaam hota hai, to dushmani kyun? (When work can be done through friendship, then why make enemies?) is his belief. He does the wrong things in the right way, without going against his conscience. His benevolent nature makes him a favourite amongst the masses. Enters Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi), who is willing to traverse forbidden paths to attain power. He starts off as Sultan's protegee but has treacherous plans to usurp him.
Although the film has a disclaimer in the very beginning saying that it is not based on the life of Haji Mastan, it seems to have an uncanny similarity to his personality as also to Dawood's. No matter about the similarity, the bottomline is, it works big time.
Milan Luthria takes his time to establish the characters in the fist half. Narrated by a cop (Randeep Hooda), after his futile suicide attempt, you are acquainted with the setting and mannerisms of the characters. The train scene involving Sultan is riveting. The blooming love story between Sultan and actress Rehana (Kangana Ranaut) is refreshing and so is the romance between Shoaib Khan and Mumtaz (Prachi Desai). Watch out for the scene in which Shoaib gifts alcohol to Mumtaz.
Luthria is immensely successful in recreating the setting of the 70s for which art director Nitin Chandrakant Desai deserves special mention. Aseem Mishra's cinematography showcases old Mumbai in a new light. The pre-eminent part about ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI is undoubtedly its dialogues (Rajat Arora) which reminds one about the Salim-Javed jodi. In one of the scenes, Shoaib Khan says, 'Mumbai kya Draupadi hai jo ise paach logon mein baat diya hai?' (Is Mumbai Draupadi that it has been divided between five people?) There's also a tactful reference made to Amitabh Bachchan, which makes you smile.
Unlike most films based on the underworld, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI isn't all grim and gory. Written deftly by Rajat Arora, it's more about the characters than the hullabaloo about crime, which is appealing. Pritam's music is soulful with Pee Loon being the best of the lot. Though there are quite a few songs, they don't really hamper the film's narrative. However, if OUATIM would have taken a cue from RAAJNEETI, it would have kept the narrative tight..
Ajay Devgn delivers one of the finest performances of his career. He connotes his emotions perfectly through his eyes. Emraan Hashmi is excellent and fits the bill to the T. Though, you are reminded of his JANNAT's character. Kangana Ranaut is decent. It's good to see her not screaming, crying or swearing. Prachi Desai is admirable. Randeep Hooda is pretty good. Wonder why his name only comes under special appearance. Gauhar Khan in an item number is passable.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI is a must watch for its enthralling story, exceptional performances and superb dialogues.