Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai

Directed by: Milan Luthria

Starring: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranut, Prachi Desai and Randeep Hooda

The slump was getting bad. After Milenge Milenge, I had hoped to review Tere Bin Laden, Udaan and Lamhaa the following week but ended up seeing none of them as they simply were not showing near me. Then last week I hit rock bottom – I missed seeing Khatta Meetha because I had to go to Ikea. An excuse so bad its right up there with dogs with a taste for feint ruled exercise books. So for Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, I was determined to get back into my groove and not fall any further behind with my new releases viewing schedule. OUATIM (a welcome abbreviation!) has been carrying good reports and the music has somehow embedded itself in my sub conscious and plays at random times in my mind when not playing on the radio. But more importantly this was one of the films I have been looking forward to seeing this year and it looked like the perfect release to end the first month of the second half of 2010 in Bollywood.

OUATIM is set in the 1970’s (so no mobile phone product placement to be found here!) and revolves around Sultan Mirza (Devgan) a gangster with a conscience who is in love with film heroine du jour Rihana (Ranut). Sultan takes the volatile and mouthy Shoaib Khan (Hashmi) under his wing as Shoaib’s father is unable to control him. Shoaib is in love with Mumtaz (Desai) in a rather testing relationship. Whilst Sultan is motivated by the greater good, Shoaib is power hungry and money crazed and a power struggle ensues when their ideologies clash, all seen through the eyes of Agnel Wilson (Hooda) a police inspector.

OUATIM is an entertaining film. It has a real vintage feel to it and has a distinctive look with grainy camera work, the odd black and white montage and some subdued subtle lighting as opposed to full on 100 watt stuff. The editing is also good though I thought the film could have been trimmed a little further and the interval could also have been brought forward too. Frustratingly, OUATIM has all the goods its needs to be a really great film but sets its ambitions a little higher than it should. I felt the film was trying to capture the essence of an Agneepath, a real mission impossible that I doubt any film could do. Instead OUATIM sits closer to films like Company and Shootout At Lokhandwala (by no means a bad thing as both are very good films) and falls a little short of its potential – especially with the ending, which took me by surprise but didn’t wow me.

However, the film is not a write off at all – it is saved with a healthy slice of nostalgia pie, taking us back in time and serving up a screenplay peppered with lots of little touches that provide moments of interaction with the audience and raise the film above average. Whether it is short bursts of witty dialogue, extended metaphors and motifs, or gestures and catchphrases that will delight frontbenchers around the world, all these qualities have slowly become more subtle (read phased out) in Hindi cinema and OUATIM presents these attributes with a modern twist for today’s audiences.

The best thing about the film for me was the fashion. Performances aside, the look and costume design for the film is simply fabulous. Kangana Ranut looks divine as the 70’s film heroine and goes all out in some stunning looks – whether it is the shiny one shoulder dresses, the shift dresses, the halter neck floral jumpsuit (which I wanted to stand up and applaud!) and the oversized Jackie O style sunglasses, Kangana looks iconic in the vintage look and will no doubt be the inspiration for a new trend in filmi fashion as well as countless fancy dress/cocktail parties. I loved how even in a sari and a salwar kameez, accessoried with chandelier earrings, oversized sunnies and quirky handbags, Kangana looked the business. Prachi Desai also looks gorgeous in tight suits in coral colours, with embroided floral motifs and a gorgeous long plait – I felt she looked like an evergreen Sharmila Tagore and a complete contrast to her modern urban look in Rock On. Ajay’s all white ensembles reminded me of  Amitabh Bachchan in Agneepath and Emraan’s flares with checked and psychedelic print shirts (that are so fugly they are awesome) looked great, though he clearly does not have the feet for mandals (aka men’s sandals and see for yourself if you don’t believe me – I  am still perplexed as to why I was looking at his feet. Er…)

Aside from the fashion, OUATIM has some fantastic performances. Ajay Devgn is brilliant as Sultan Mirza – understated, nuanced and strong – indeed, he forms a solid backbone for the film to rest on without overshadowing anyone. I always harp on about Ajay’s versatility but it really is in evidence here, whether it is the romantic scenes, dramatic speeches or emotional tracks, Ajay scores each time and never lets the audience down. After Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge and Raajneeti, Ajay continues strong and steady in 2010 and we can forgive Golmaal sequels for good work like this. I’ll be honest and say I’ve never understood the appeal of Emraan Hashmi – yes he was good in Murder and Gangster but otherwise, he is an acquired taste. I thought he gave a good account of himself in the film – I liked the way he embraced the grey shades of the character and portrayed his character as someone whose vulnerability is tied up with his anger. I also thought he was good in his scenes with Ajay and Prachi, though I credit Ajay for giving adequate support in the heavy-duty scenes. Prachi Desai is good as Mumtaz (not the actress!), conveying the fear and the love she feels for Shoaib at the same time. Randeep Hooda is a revelation as Agnel Wilson, turning in an assured and stellar performance that manages to go beyond the guest/supporting actor realm to mesh seamlessly with the film.

The real surprise package is Kangana who is in her element as Rihana, film actress who falls in love with Sultan Mirza. Sadly, the script does not give enough depth to either of its heroines in OUATIM and Kangana is not given a lot to work on but to her credit, she makes the role her own, exuding star quality in the amazing get-ups and in the few performance orientated scenes that she does have, she makes a conscious effort not to repeat herself but instead try to reinvent herself for the character. When Kangana was on screen, it is hard not to watch her and whilst she really had nothing to do in Kites, OUATIM is a far better role and Kangana makes the most of it, showing plenty of star quality and distinction from her contemporaries.

I enjoyed OUATIM and would recommend it to all, especially to fans of 70’s and 80’s cinema. While I did hope the film would have more depth and grit than it did, as a commercial entertainer, this film works well and even merits a repeat viewing or two. It certainly has a strong concept to work on and whilst it may not execute this to perfection, it certainly falls on the right side of above satisfactory. Once upon a time, films like this were ten a penny (or a rupee) but as they become fewer and far between, the fondness for them grows. OUATIM is definitely worth a watch – perhaps one of the better films we’ll see this summer…

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