Once Upon a Time in Mumbai…

Love the title! It has lilting, musical feel to it, don’t you think?

I’ve always been partial to stories that begin with ‘Once upon a time’…you just know they’re going to be fairy tales or fables, full of the good stuff – magic, misery and a happily ever after! Well, most!

I’ve been watching the songs & promos play ad nauseum on MTV, Channel V and every other channel that plays Bollywood music on TV for a while now and had decided that this was one I didn’t want to miss. Friday night is movie night and so we made our way to the INOX Multiplex in Panjim, the only decent theatre in the whole of Goa. We watched with cousins and friends.

Before I move on to the movie, I must mention two things that brought me happiness right there in the INOX lobby. The tiny bookstore they have there is quite good, surprisingly so for one in Goa, which is seriously lacking in the bookstore department except for Literati. (Two recently opened, tiny branches of Landmark don’t count. Not in my book!) It had a few magazines, several boxed sets of the classics for children, and totally unexpected – a book I’ve been looking for, for a while now and had almost given up on, deciding to resort to Amazon – Roger Lancelyn Green’s, Tales of the Greek Heroes! I remember having a seriously tattered copy in my childhood, the pages barely stuck together with masses of cello tape and a plasticky sort of cover. I love Mythology, especially Greek, and seeing that book, there in a bookshop in a movie theatre, was such an unexpected joy! Like meeting an old friend. Alright, sorry, am rambling again, books do that to me! The second thing was a plate of steaming hot chicken Momitoz with spicy chilli sauce – heaven! They were just Momos (steamed dumplings) but oh so good J Perfect comfort food on cold, rainy nights!

Alright, onwards. The movie was interesting – well scripted (for the most part), well produced, well cast and well acted. The movie is set in Bombay underworld during the 70s’ (when thankfully, it was still called that!), when smuggling and spurious liquor were prime fodder for all racketeers worth their salt. The story is apparently loosely based on the relationship between Haji Mastan, Boss of the Bombay underworld in the seventies and his apprentice the infamous Dawood Ibrahim, who later went on to eclipse his Boss in a huge way and still eludes the law today. A lack of relevant background information on these two however, by no means interferes with the movie-experience. It works perfectly well as a stand alone, gangster movie. The production values are excellent – the garish, glitzy, flamboyance of Bombay at the time, recreated in superb detail in the costumes, hair and make-up, and set designs. It was fun to see the heavy make-up (especially the ‘heavily-kohled’ eyes) and the bird’s nest hairdo on the heroines! The bell-bottoms and ‘nylon-silk’ shirts that Hashmi sports, I could live without however, I much prefer Devgn’s stylish white wardrobe! It was nice to see the old currency notes too – nostalgic especially now, when there’s such a to-do over the new Rupee symbol.

Ajay Devgn (He seems to have dropped the ‘a’, Numerology at work no doubt! This is after all, an Ekta Kapoor movie – The Queen Bee of the alphabet & all things numerical ;-)) and Emraan Hashmi, are superbly cast in the two pivotal roles of Sultan Mirza and Shoaib Khan. Ajay Devgn is back to his efficient self, with his realistic portrayal of the smart, suave and sensitive Sultan, a smuggler with a strong Robin Hood complex. He has certain principles (he refuses to smuggle drugs and spurious liquor) he does business by and sticks to them. He doesn’t however pretend to be anything other than he is, and therein lies his character’s appeal. I am not surprised at his having done such a good job. He’s played a similar role before in Company and Omkara with panache. Emraan Hashmi, (ugly as sin ;-)), is a revelation of sorts in the role of a cold-blooded, super-ambitious, soulless wannabe, who starts off being a Sultan-worshipper and quickly turns into his nemesis. You see it coming; it’s only a question of when. For once, he doesn’t get to kiss his heroine!! Though not for lack of trying 😉 He also has some great lines in the movie, which for the most part, has great dialogue. I have only watched bits and parts of Hashmi movies before – they are not really my kind of cinema, but he’s scarily good in this one. Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai as the respective molls are good, but not special. Kangana at least has superb screen presence and better costumes (I think she’s one of the few Bollywood actresses that has a superb fashion sense and is always impeccably turned out!) however, which is more than can be said for Prachi, whom I liked much better in Rock On. They do however serve to bring out the more sensitive, human side of the men they love.

For me however, the real find is Randeep Hooda (whom I last saw in a bit role in Monsoon Wedding). He plays ACP Agnel Wilson, the narrator of the story. He is simply superb as the angst-ridden, upright police officer, unable to forgive himself for making the wrong choice, ‘backing the wrong man’, as he confesses after surviving a suicide attempt in the film’s opening sequence. Kudos for a sensitive, mature portrayal! The ending seemed abrupt and rushed and it would have been nice to see Khan brought to justice, but true to real-life, that doesn’t happen. The music is melodious and the cabaret number in particular is a complete throwback to the ones we saw in every movie back in the days! Ultimately, the movie is about Bombay, the kind of people she attracts, the risks they take to survive her challenges and the price she extracts in return. No free rides here people!

Ekta certainly knows her gangsters! Watch it!

P.S. One of the cousins I watched with, provided much amusement during Intermission, by casually fishing out a cucumber from her purse (Uh huh! You heard me!), breaking it into two and offering me one half!!! Needless to say, I was speechless…until the laughing-fit began  🙂

2 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai…

  1. I’m so glad you mentioned Tales of the Greek Heros! I’ve been looking for a way to introduce Greek mythology to my kids because I think they’d really be into it. Funny you should find such a childhood love in that bookstore after looking for it for so long. You and the book were in the right place at the right time. 🙂

    Thanks, too, for the movie recommendation. Bollywood is picking up real momentum here in the States.

    1. That’s wonderful! And the book is a good place to start. I’m immersed in it at the moment and oblivious to all else 🙂

      It’s really interesting, how Bollywood is all over the place these days, while Hollywood is fast gaining a large chunk of the movie market-share in India, although limited to the the big Metros. Have you watched one – a Bollywood movie, I mean? An easy one for your list, if you’re interested 🙂

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