In Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobaraa, Emraan Hashmi grows into an Akshay Kumar. Yes. The brutish incoherence of the idea to make a sequel to the 2010's punch-packed film, starring Ajay Devgn (as Haji Mastan) and Emraan Hashmi (as Dawood Ibrahim), giving yet another largely fictionalized account of the gangster's life was enough to put you off, if not the waxy boring promos of the film. Next, you fallibly miscast Imran Khan in the role of an upcoming gangster, which they say is based on Abu Salem's life? Really? Looking justifiably exasperated at being out of place, he looks like the millionaire who was forced to be a slumdog. OUATIMD did look like to be a monumental disappointment, to further milk the goodwill and success created by the earlier Devgn starrer. Credited with films like Taxi No 9211, OUATIM and The Dirty Picture, director Milan Luthria has been fairly prudish in creating some good work. In this half-assed attempt, he does misfire, albeit not as despicably as I expected him to. Yes, OUATIMD is NOT a terrible film, but then its a letdown to its predecessor.
Dawood, named Shohaib in the film, has grown into lewd, flamboyant ruler of Bombay after the fall of Sultan (screen name for Haji Mastan's character). He combs his hair back, smokes like a chimney, wears his glasses all day and night and spurts corny one-liners faster than your pulse rate. Deliciously evil. Yet, when he sits down to pen his thoughts to his lady love, it is hard for him to come up with the right words. The wisecrack suddenly seems to evaporate, sadly. Such chasms in logic seem to be the core problem of this film, for example, why does the main reason of Shohaib coming to Bombay sidelined with the love story? Screenwriter Rajat Aroraa, who did a decent job with the prequel, seems to falter more than once here. In a runtime of 160 minutes, writing seems to be chronically stupid, the milieu of the era is absent and the mood of a gangster film is dumped. It is all too perfunctory when they use gangster rivalry and police action subplots as appalling conveniences. All this is voraciously compensated by a love triangle strained off the gangster grit, shining through an assured lead performance and a galore of thunderous dialogues. Out of the million one-liners thrown at you, I could take back only one that worked - Ladkiyaan jab roti hai toh bahut saare reasons hote hai, lekin jab ek ladka rota hai toh wajah sirf ladki hoti hai.
The premise of an unapologetic anti-hero is drilled in well through the first half with some light moments via the simultaneous love stories. The second half dives directly into the conflict of the love story, and some clever moments resurrect the film, mildly. Luthria does well enough to deliver the old-school virility and dialoguebaazi at the order of high decibel background score, without succumbing to popular gangster movie claptraps such as barraging item numbers or the reckless drama inherent to love triangles. Infact, he underplays his hero as an ardent lover instead of a rebel. The problem here is that considering the genre of the film you cannot take it as a brainless entertainer where love problems takes over mafia issues. But if you do manage to do that, OUATIMD does work intermittently, coming together as a choppy attempt, never really getting dull or boring. Going the full hog with the villainy and injecting some logic in the love story instead of over-dosing on couplet-ey dialogues could have lifted the film way above mediocrity.
Produced by Balaji Films, OUATIMD rides on some soulful songs churned out by Pritam. My personal favorite will have to be Yeh Tune Kya Kiya. Akiv Ali is reprehensible for some lazy editing that does give it a generous runtime. Ace cinematographer Ayananka Bose does a hatchet job save for the ending scene where his camera zooms out to show a ship off the coast of Mumbai and you see a silhouette of the city as the camera pans above it. I find it hard to rave about the action design despite the genre of the film, as there isnt enough of it or anything that is not campy about it. Dialogues by Rajat Aroraa, which became a rage in the 2010 movie, take a crotchety turn wherein the metaphors and sayings dont necessarily have to mean anything, for example, Doodh mein nimbu jisne daala, paneer uski ho jaata hai.
Call me a sell-out but I have never had so much fun watching Akshay Kumar on screen in a long time. Reveling in the wily etch of Shohaib, oblivious of the clunky plot of his film, Kumar gasconades fear and power effortlessly, oozing out enough swag to make you root for him. Shaken and stirred by love, he also brings out a repulsive restrained romantic in Shohaib at the blink of an eye. After Special 26 earlier this year, this is another smashing performance that is restoring any liking for him. Sonakshi Sinha does not match her Lootera act, earlier last month, but gets a large screentime to showcase a variety of emotions in which she espouses Jasmine well, frustratingly nubile and incorrigibly dumb. Imran Khan, oh boy! What is he doing here? You can see him stiffen up every time he has to mouth those one-liners and you can also see him shining in all those romantic moments. Pitobash does not get much scope as Imran's sidekick, and I fail to understand why is Abhimanyu Singh picking up all these inconsequential roles in films. Mahesh Manjrekar has done this character of the gangster who loses and dies probably a dozen times over but it is baffling to see Vidya Malwade cast as his girlfriend. Chetan Hansraj is still as ludicrous as he has ever been. Sonali Bendre Behl is also in the film for a short cameo, and I still think she is the prettiest 90s actress.
Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara lacks narrative coherence, and struggles to stay true to its genre. Yet, it is due to Akshay Kumar's lead performance that the film does manage to hold well. At the Box Office, it has taken a good start but with last week's Chennai Express racing away, it will have to depend on good fan-following and word of mouth to build those numbers it is expected to. This would be Milan Luthria's weakest film, but it is definitely not as distraught as it looks. However, I would wish that the industry can put an end to films based on Dawood Ibrahim or the Mumbai Mafia. There has been a film made on every chapter of S. Hussain Zaidi's novel, Dongri to Dubai, and Ekta Kapoor has produced all of them, literally! Watch it for an Akshay Kumar we seem to had lost!
Rating - 2.5/5
Originally published for MadAboutMoviez here