Planet Bollywood
Once Upon A Time in Mumbai
Producer: Balaji Telefilms
Director: Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Prachi Desai, Kangana Ranaut, Randeep Hooda
Music: Pritam
Lyrics: Irshad Kamil, Nilesh Mishra, Amitabh Bhattacharya
Genre: Thriller
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Approximate Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min
Film Released on: 30 July 2010
Reviewed by: Ankit Ojha  - Rating: 7.5 / 10
More Reviews and Analysis by PB Critics:
    • Review by Amodini Sharma - Rating: 7.5 / 10
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Public Rating Average: 5.11 / 10 (rated by 410 viewers)
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Opinion Poll: Is "Once Upon a Time in Mumbai" a good gangster movie?

A film like Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (OUATIM) comes with its own level of expectations altogether. With decent promotion, a melodious soundtrack (by Pritam), a capable director (having helmed movies like Kachche Dhaage and Taxi No. 9211), a heavy-duty star-cast (Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi, Kangna Ranaut) and a now bankable producer (Ekta Kapoor of Balaji Motion Pictures, her last production being the wild Love Sex aur Dhokha by Dibakar Bannerjee), one can but expect a good movie, if not better. Thankfully, OUATIM doesn’t disappoint at all and in fact turns out to be a gripping dramatic thriller that has the style, the punch lines, the friction, and a whole lot of substance too.

Set during the times of the late Haji Mastan, Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgn, on whose character is the basis of Mastan) loves Bombay. He had learned to love Bombay ever since he arrived as a young child. As he grew up, he turned out to make a huge smuggling empire that he now owns – this profession of his though, doesn’t deter him from helping the poor and the needy. He falls in love with Rehana (Kangna Ranaut) a film actress, who reciprocates her feelings with the same. Enter Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi) and his own wild ways of living life and doing things. He gets jailed several times and his father, a police officer himself, isn’t able to control his ways. And then Shoaib’s paths cross with Sultan, one such person who will become Shoaib’s idol, and later, his worst enemy.

As stated in almost all my reviews, it’s the screenplay and its narrative structure that should have a powerful grip. Here too, OUATIM is backed by a very straightforward storyline, coupled with an interesting and powerfully constructed screenplay. Dialogues are the main point of the film, as each friction-filled conversation has a few punch lines that the audience will take home. Such is the aura of the film that you will literally take the film home with you and discuss it with others, or even think about it alone for a long, long time after the last of the credits have rolled.

The dialogues are so straightforward that sometimes they may seem artificial, but these dialogues make the movie even more poetic and dramatic, so one could forgive the writer for it. But on the subject of writing, in an otherwise well-written screenplay, there are a lot of loose ends as well. Prachi Desai’s character has no aim or long term goal other than crying beautifully. While Kangna’s character is the catalyst and one tends to get interested in her story, I guess the character should have deserved more meat. Focus is deservedly given toward both Ajay and Emraan’s characters.

Camerawork is impressive and it is this part of the technical finesse in the movie that reminds us of the 1970s era. Such techniques as the low-angle shots have been subtly used as gentle reminders of the past. Editing is interestingly watertight, but the editor could have done away with a few long, sometimes often-repeated time lapse shots at the editing table. Cinematography is commendable. The look and feel of the film nails it right on the head – Ajay Devgn’s white attire, Kangna’s glam-avatar and Prachi’s simplistic looks gel you into knowing more about them.

Pritam’s music is well composed and some tracks are well picturized especially “Parda” and “Pee Loon” but having said that, the way they were randomly placed in the movie, they could have been skipped altogether. So in one way it is a shame that Pritam’s music didn’t get the right output in the film – if Luthria really wanted songs, there could have been ten other ways to put it in place. Any appraisal of the technical aspects of the movie would be incomplete without commenting on Luthria’s refreshingly realist way of looking at this era – sans any drama.

As far as performances are concerned, Ajay Devgn rules. He literally made the character lively and refreshing. His expressions and body language are terrific. Emraan Hashmi has given an outstanding performance, and confidently does the takkar with Ajay, though I’m not sure why he needed to work out for a song that could have been done without. In fact, after Awarapan, this is the only other movie in which he has dared to do something different and come up with outstanding results. Kangna Ranaut is a splendid performer and for once we see her in a non-psychotic performance – a refreshing break from all the other disturbing roles she has taken in her career. Prachi Desai looks elegant and performs confidently, but is unfortunately a waste – her role is not useful in any way. Randeep Hooda grips you in his performance.

Despite strong points aplenty, things do turn you off in the film. Firstly, despite having a decent runtime of 2 hours 15 min, the movie still does seem to be a tad long. At the risk of repeating myself in the following cases, the songs don’t seem to fit into the storyline – especially the item number, which seemed randomly forced. Emraan’s love-interest sub-plot is not well-written, and Prachi Desai’s character doesn’t add much to the movie’s plot. While Kangna is the catalyst of the movie’s plot she should have been given more meat in her character. These flaws of characterization will partially be ignored due to the super-strong characterizations of Sultan Mirza and Shoaib Khan, and their well-written face-offs. Also, the editor could have done away with some scenes at the editing table.

Overall, a strong star-cast, a solid screenplay, hard-hitting dialogues, superlative performances by the two main leads (Ajay and Emraan), and gripping execution make this movie a must watch despite the flaws and loose ends. Grab a ticket now and watch the most dramatic gangster movie ever seen in recent times in Bollywood.

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