Star cast: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Kangana Ranaut, Prachi Desai, Randeep Hooda.

Plot: Ajay is an underworld don in Bombay in the seventies, and Emraan is his protégé. But soon, Emraan wants to rule the underworld, much like Ajay. So what does he do?

What’s Good: The script, the performances, the dialogues, the music, the background score.

What’s Bad: Nothing really!

Verdict: OUATIM works for all age groups, for men and women, for cities and towns, for masses and classes.

Loo break: None at all! Pee loon is fine but no pee, no loo, while the movie is on!

Balaji’s Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (UA) is a film about how the underworld became strong in Bombay in the ’seventies and the ’eighties. Loosely based on the lives of two underworld dons, it talks about how power corrupts.

Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan) convinces the other underworld dons to remain united against to the police.

Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan) is a supremely intelligent smuggler who convinces the other underworld dons to remain united so that they together could present a tough opposition to the police. While ear-marking areas of Bombay city to each of the other dons, he keeps the sea for himself and carries on his nefarious activities through the waters. Sultan is like a Robin Hood for the poor whom he cares for and looks after like a doting father. He also values human life and is principled enough to not kill innocent people. He falls in love with film actress Rehana (Kangana Ranaut) who also responds to his advances.

Shoaib Khan (Emraan Hashmi), the son of a police inspector, is good for nothing and dreams of making tons of money. He enters the world of crime because that is the easiest way to get rich quick. By the by, he joins Sultan’s gang and soon becomes his most trusted lieutenant. He has a girlfriend, Mumtaz (Prachi Desai).

One day, Sultan decides to leave the world of crime to join politics. While he is away in Delhi to convince the home minister (Avtar Gill) to give him a party ticket to contest elections, he gives Shoaib the reins of his business empire. The impatient Shoaib, in his quest to become as big as Sultan, does things which Sultan would never dream of doing including manufacturing and selling spurious liquor which kills people who consume it.

From here on starts a rift between Sultan and Shoaib who have a showdown. What happens thereafter is revealed in the climax. Does Sultan realise his political dream? Does Shoaib make up with Sultan after his fallout?

The entire story of the two dons, one reigning and the other upcoming, is narrated in the flashback of police officer Agnel Wilson (Randeep Hooda) who had watched their rise from close quarters.

The film, set in the 1970s and 1980s, is an entertaining commercial fare from the word ‘go’. Rajat Arora has penned an interesting story and padded it up with a highly engrossing screenplay that doesn’t let the viewer lose grip for even a moment. Arora’s dialogues, of course, are absolutely fantastic, many of them clapworthy.

Although the film is about the underworld, the love stories of Sultan Mirza and Shoaib Khan have been presented so sensitively that it is a sheer delight to watch them unfold. Interwoven into these love stories are wonderfully warm and cutely funny moments which will be loved by the audience. For instance, the scene in which Sultan pays Rs. 400 for a guava he picks up to gift Rehana when he wants to woo her, and the reference to that gift much later by Rehana, as also the scene when Shoaib takes a bottle of whisky as gift for Mumtaz and quite innocently wonders why she is not dancing with joy as his alcoholic friends normally do on seeing a liquor bottle – these are so fresh in writing and presentation that the viewer simply falls in love with the love stories! Even a simple dialogue of Shoaib Khan at the inauguration of his shop, when he tells Sultan that he is in love with Mumtaz, will bring the house down with laughter. There are several such fun moments in the film and many clapworthy dialogues in the first as well as second halves.

If Emraan is cute in the romantic scenes, he's believably tough in the action & dramatic scenes.

Not just the love stories, the audience actually takes an instant liking to both, Sultan and Shoaib. Sultan’s principles, his attitude, his persona, they all cast a magical spell on the viewer. Similarly, Shoaib’s defiant demeanour and his cute innocence mixed with compelling focus in life are too wonderful to be overlooked. These attributes make him the darling of the audience within minutes. And this is the distinguishing feature between films about dons made in recent times and this one. In fact, it may be said in a lighter vein that so endearing and so glamorous are the two dons in the film that it just might prompt some impressionable youngsters to consider becoming dons as a career option after watching the film!

The drama becomes even more interesting when the more informed viewers are able to draw parallels between the lifestyles of Sultan and Shoaib in the film and of two real-life underworld biggies. Another interesting point about Rajat Arora’s script is that although it is a drama about the underworld, it is far from serious, depressing or morose and yet it is realistic and serious in that sense. Resultantly, the women audience will also be able to enjoy the proceedings. Again, since the making of the mass-appealing drama is intelligent and because a good part of it is devoted to the romantic sides of the two dons, there is a lot in the film for the multiplex audience as well as the single-screen audience and for the city audience as well as the audience in the smaller centres.

Ajay Devgan is simply fantastic in the role of Sultan Mirza. So real is his performance that it looks like he was born to play this role. Right from his look to his acting including dialogue-delivery, everything is fabulous. Indeed, an award-winning performance! Emraan Hashmi is adorable. This is easily Emraan’s best performance so far. If he is cute in the romantic scenes, he is believably tough in the action and dramatic scenes. Kangana Ranaut looks every inch the character she plays. She does a superlative job. Prachi Desai is excellent and does full justice to her character. Randeep Hooda is a revelation! He leaves an indelible mark as police inspector Agnel Wilson. Avtar Gill is effective. Asif Basra (as Emraan Hashmi’s police officer-dad is superb. Naved Aslam (as Patrick), Sanjeev Wilson (as Chandru), Mehul Bhojak (in the role of Javed), Ravi Khanwilkar (as Vardhan), master Herbie Crasto (as young Sultan) and master Namit Dahiya (young Shoaib) lend admirable support. Gauhar Khan and Amy Kingston (as the girl seen in the pub with Emraan Hashmi) are good.

Milan Luthria scores as director of the period drama. He has extracted wonderful performances out of his actors, cast them very appropriately, effectively created the period in which the film is set and made a wholesome entertainer for audiences of all age groups and kinds. Cinematographer Aseem Mishra captures the drama fabulously. Action scenes have been beautifully composed by Abbas Ali Moghul. Sets (Nitin Chandrakant Desai) are lovely.

Pritam’s music is superb. The ‘Pee loon’ song is a rage and will be met with deafening applause in the cinemas. All the other songs are also excellent. In fact, the ‘I am in love’ song from the album, which is conspicuous by its absence in the film, should be forthwith picturised and added, if need be, even in the end rolling titles because it is hugely popular already. Raju Khan and Remo’s choreography is restrained. Irshad Kamil’s lyrics need special mention. Background music (Sandeep Shirodkar) is a major asset. Editing (Akiv Ali) is sharp.

On the whole, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai is a sureshot winner which will fetch wonderful returns from the cinemas. It has the potential to prove class A for its distributors. Having said this, it must be added that the long English title will prove to be a negative point, especially in small centres.

By Komal Nahta

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