Once Upon a Time in Mumbai
Once Upon a Time in Mumbai
Director: Milan Luthria
Duration: 135 minutes
Coming to town this week in Bolly Bangkok is the sequel to the above
film, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Again. So I thought it would probably make
sense for me to watch the first one and I was able to track it down. I am
glad I did because now I can save a few hours of my life and about 200 baht
($6) by skipping out on the new one like an unpaid debt. Anytime you see
a film title beginning with the words Once Upon a Time it instills in you
certain expectations of a quality film with previous titles such as Once
Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, the Once Upon a Time
in China series and even the Once Upon a Time in Triad Society films were
pretty darn good. It should be hallowed ground. But Once Upon a Time in Mumbai
is much more like well-ploughed unfertile ground that had me wondering how
on earth this became a “Super Hit” at the box office. When I then later perused
some reviews of the sequel and literally every one of them painfully trashed
it I thought I would give myself a break by not seeing it. So sorry, I have
no review of the new film but there are plenty of them online. But I do have
a fairly negative review of the first film and there are not a lot of those
This is a gangster film that moves at the pace of an old fashioned pen pal
correspondence in which the dialogue is both so turgid and faux poetic that
you feel like these gangsters should be writing commercials for hair products.
Do Mumbai gangsters really constantly talk in aphorisms, metaphors and similes?
Their thug followers must have to go to night school to understand them and
their girlfriends must want to just slap their faces at times and ask them
to speak like a human being. But this is the sort of dialogue that
Bollywood has always thrived on and if it were not for the fact that these
were uneducated nasty criminals I would be all for it, but in a gangster
film? Really? Maybe in Mumbai gangsters have to read the great Bengali poets
to climb the ladder. What, you can’t quote Rabindranath Tagore when you are
extorting a businessman? Back to peddling drugs on the street till you can.
But though the dialogue struck me as absurd the real problem in this poorly
structured crime drama is that there is very little crime, very little mayhem,
very little action and absolutely no tension. Basically nothing happens.
It is a crime film that you can take mom and dad to and then take a nap.
I kept praying for Joe Pesci to show up and hammer somebody.
I gather from the reviews that the story is based loosely on the lives of
two real gangsters back in the seventies, Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim.
The filmmakers go out of their way to deny this in a notice upfront that
can be translated roughly to “Please don’t kill me for this movie. I have
a wife, children and many servants to feed”. Haji died back in the 90’s but
Dawood is very much alive though in hiding. You can find biographies
of both of these men in Wikipedia and it makes for interesting reading. More
so than this film. Haji was big into Bollywood films, financing them and
on a friendly basis with many of the stars and in fact he married an actress.
Ibrahim was more into money and violence.
A young boy metaphorically washes ashore in Bombay (as it was called back
then) from his hometown of Madras. He quickly gains the nickname of Sultan,
Sultan Mizra and like a flash he goes from a boy smuggling things in his
mouth to becoming the biggest smuggler in the city. He is not just a smuggler,
he is a Superstar Smuggler loved by all but the police and probably some
of them as well for his charitable ways. If he were doing this now he would
be able to host his own reality show, Celebrity Smuggler. Played by Ajay
Devgn (who somehow managed to lose an “a” in his last name since I tuned
out of Bollywood for a while. There is a reward if anyone can find it) in
his typical solemn glassy eyed manner in which every expression change seems
to physically hurt him. I am sure it has been said many times that Ajay has
a strong resemblance to Huckleberry Hound but in truth Huckleberry is a little
more expressive. Ajay stares a lot. But he does so with a steely menace that
must work well with cocktail waitresses working for tips. Where is my Manhattan?
Sultan likes the movies; especially ones starring Rihana (Kangana Renaut)
who he romances (i.e. stalks) with a piece of guava that he forces the vendor
to raise the price to 400 rupees or else he would continue to spout bad dialogue
to him. He wanted to impress Rihana with how much he spent on her. Wow. 400
rupees. That is almost $8 these days. Maybe more back then and at any rate
it works. Maybe I will try that with a durian some day.
On the other side of the ledger is an up and coming psychopath Shoaib Khan
(Emraan Hashmi) who gets in the good graces of Sultan by taking a few whacks
from a shovel to his head that barely faze him. Totally off the charts crazy,
he still manages to romance the lovely good girl Mumtaz (Prachi Desai) with
a song and some stolen jewelry. She is clearly in need of some serious counseling
for loving this guy who is about as charmless and graceless as a sleazy rattlesnake.
As he moves up the chain of command you know that eventually he will be going
for the number one spot. We know this, everyone in the audience knows this
but Sultan is perhaps too busy working on his opus as he dashes about town
in his white linen suits and his white Mercedes to notice and when it comes,
wow! No not really. More like a oh, ok. End of movie.
My rating: 4.0