Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai

August 06, 2010
Aaman Lamba

Bollywood, and film, in general has long had a fascination with the dark arts of crime and its influence on society. The gangster biopic lends itself to intense character studies, well-defined good vs. bad themes, and of course, gratitituous blood-dripping action.

Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai conforms to the genre, being simultaneously a 70s-style crime thriller and a chronicle of an inflating hypercity. Regrettably, it glamorizes gangsterism to a large extent, an all too common failing in gangster films. It also is unable to resist the standard irrelevant musical segues that Bollywood seems unable to get away from.

That being said, it is one of the better films of the year, in equal parts due to the superlative acting by Ajay Devgn, the rich cinematography and dialogue, the roman-a-clef plotline, and the tense interplay between the emperor and prince of crime. The rise of the underworld dons, the gang wars, and the battle for the city's control between Haji Mastan Mirza and Dawood Ibrahim, a war that perhaps forever scarred the city are the central themes at hand.

While the songs might be superfluous, the background track is perfectly laid out, quite apposite to the scenes, although it gets somewhat tiresome after a point. The metropolis is the constant backdrop and prize at hand, termed 'Draupadi' at one stage, divided as she was into five parts amongst the emperor's lieutenants. The producers would have needed more cojones than they evidently do, if they had chosen the more appropriate title of 'Once Upon a Time in Bombay', as the city was named then.

Emraan Hashmi begins his efforts at moving away from his chocolately lover-boy roles, but isn't quite able to get rid of the romantic air at times, which detracts from his wild darkness. The women don't have much to do either, although both Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai portray their roles well. Randeep Hooda as the chronicler of times past, and of his own failures, doesn't get quite enough screen time as he deserves. The police force is also effaced from the scene, although crony politicians are given a drubbing, so its evident where the balance of power is intended to be.

The film ends with many years of blood and hate still ahead, in a Dark Knight-like finale.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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