Apologies for missing my morning gossip, duckies, "somebody" had too much fun last night and was too hungover to type this morning. I was feeling well enough to hit Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai this afternoon, and by the time I left I was ready to run off and join Sultan Mirza's gang. Just a note for anybody going to see this at Lohmann's Twin in Falls Church - the subtitles are set about 5 minutes off through the entire film. You have been warned.)
Now without further ado, I bring you my review!
While I was caught up in the adventures of Sultan Mirza and Shohaib Khan, one book kept coming to mind - Columbine by Dave Cullen. For those of you unfamiliar with the high school shootings at Columbine, they took place back in 1999. Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attempted to blow up their high school and when the bomb fizzled, they went on a shooting spree until finally turning the guns on themselves. The reason I thought of Columbine is that in his book Dave Cullen makes a strong case that Eric Harris was a psychopath - a person devoid of empathy, utterly self-centered, and strongly amoral but with the ability to manipulate others.
There is a psychopath at work in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai and he's just as brutal as Eric Harris.
The movie begins in 1993 with ACP Agnel Wilson (an ultra-sexy Randeep Hooda) being fished out of the ocean after attempting suicide. He launches immediately into flashback mode, telling the story of the rise of Sultan Misra (Ajay Devgn). Mythic overtones fly and furious as we see the young Sultan rise from the ocean and bestow a coin on an old woman who looks strikingly like Nirupa Roy. Just like the young Vijay in Deewar, we know right away that Sultan is not just an honorable man but one touched by God.
But all isn't sunshine and rainbows in 1970s Mumbai and we see Sultan's polar opposite in Shohaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi), who rampages through life like an elephant in musth.
Where Sultan is controlled, Shohaib lashes out. Where Sultan shows love through quiet but meaningful gestures, Shohaib bullies his girlfriend into dressing like Dimple Kapadia in Bobby and then has sex with her. Sultan treats elders with respect; Shohaib takes pleasure in mocking his father. They are two sides of a coin - a Robin Hood who only breaks the government's laws but never his conscience and a psychopath who does whatever he can to come out ahead.
Rounding out the cast of characters are tragic actress Rehana (Kangana Ranaut, who looks SMASHING in the period make-up), Shohaib's ladyfriend Mumtaz (cute as a button Prachi Desai), and the aforementioned ACP Angel Williams, who is determined to destroy Sultan.
Part of the selling point of the film was the throwback to 1970s style and the film did not disappoint. This was no Johnny Gaddar borrowing the kitsch factor of classic films, Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai captures the soul of vintage masala films. Not only was the film scripted like a classic film with a leisurely episodic pacing, the look of the film felt very vintage. Everything was stylized but completely unironic. Nobody winked at the camera and the inside filmi jokes felt very restrained. I have been disappointed with other 'retro' films in recent years, so I was especially happy that Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai delivered on the 70s charm hinted at in the trailer.
It's not just the story and style that hooked me - producer Ekta Kapoor and director Milan Luthria have clearly spent time and effort on every aspect of the film. Milan Luthria got performances from the cast that were universally excellent, especially Ajay Devgn's tough but tender Sultan, who oozed power out of every pore. To anchor a film like this is not an easy job and Ajay nailed it. He showed a vulnerable side as Sultan that equalled his performance in Omkara. When Ajay strutted across the screen in his white shirt, I really felt like I was seeing the rebirth of Ajay. And Emraan Hashmi put in the best performance I have seen from him, ever. Kangana and Prachi didn't have large roles but they both acted the heck out of them. One scene from Kangana particularly impressed me. Her character and Sultan are hosting a dinner and Shohaib comes up to greet them. Kangana's face in that moment did this wonderful mixture of "Who is this tacky guy?" mixed with "I'm being polite as the hostess." Now, she didn't need to make that expression. The scene would have worked just as well without it plotwise but Kangana added something that made the scene really pop because that is just the kind of film this is.
All the actors brought their A-game. As did the casting director, who brought in so many interesting looking people to fill in background roles. There were the bit actors who all vaguely resembled classic villains and thugs, the white party goers who looked neither like Russian prostitutes nor like Australian backbackers but like actual pretty girls of the sort you would see at a club or party, the aging hero who was staring opposite Rehana in a film, the hoity-toity customers who came into Mumtaz's jewelry store, and just the regular folks in Shohaib's neighborhood. Even with so many people crowded into frames, the screen never seem cluttered and each person was interesting to look at.
(And on a side note, I wish Hindi films would bring back the pack of thugs that hang out with the villain when he's up to no good. I just watched Jr. NTR's film Ashok and there is a scene near the beginning where Prakash Raj figures out that a wedding is bogus as soon as he sees the two men brought forth to witness the ceremony. How? Well, it's totally obvious since the two men are played by guys who are thugs in every Telugu movie ever. Of COURSE they were evil. It's like if somebody was all, "Yeah, baby, it's cool, I'll just get my friend to drive us" and then the friend turns out to be Shetty. Any right-thinking heroine would obviously be suspicious!)
The music was also top notch. Not only were the songs catchy and well-placed in the film but the background score was phenomenal. Whenever anything bad-ass was going to happen, this punchy, strutty music would start playing and I would pump my fist in anticipation of the bad-assness.
In fact, everything was so well put together that even though I wished we could have seen more of Rehana and her adventures making movies in the 1970s, I understand that adding anything more would upset the balance.
So, should you see Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai? Absolutely. It's got a fantastic story, powerhouse performances, incredible production values, and a bumping soundtrack. And most importantly, it passes the Filmi Girl test of true quality - Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai grabs you in the gut with the three-ring circus of entertainment and then once it has you watching, it gets your brain in on the action.
Item girls and something to think about.
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl