The Hindi film industry's fascination with gangster films dates back to the 1970s. Ironically, this year has witnessed a plethora of gangster films invading our cineplexes, while a few of them were inspired by real-life characters as well. Additionally, the year also marks a substantial rise in sequels, since the original films have tremendous recall value.
Milan Luthria's ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! takes off from where ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI concluded -- the struggle for power. But unlike most gangster movies, ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! takes the precarious route of narrating a love story, with two criminals falling in love with the same woman, besides focusing on the game of one-upmanship between gangsters and the power struggle being played in the lanes and streets of Mumbai.
Does Milan Luthria's take on the underworld live up to the humungous expectations? Let's analyze...
ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! narrates the story of an underworld don, Shoaib [Akshay Kumar]. His only confidantes are his best friend Javed [Sarfaraz Khan] and former lover Mumtaz [Sonali Bendre]. He notices Aslam [Imran Khan] and takes him under his wings. Gradually, Aslam becomes one of his trusted confidantes.
Shoaib stumbles upon an aspiring actress Jasmine [Sonakshi Sinha]. Slowly, but surely, his attraction towards Jasmine goes on to becoming an obsession. This creates a rift between Shoaib and Aslam and results in the ultimate face-off between the mentor and protege.
First things first! Milan Luthria, who replicated the bygone era in his last two films [ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI and THE DIRTY PICTURE] successfully, seems like a complete pro in recreating the long-gone decades with flourish. Right from the ambiance to the outfits to the dialogue the protagonists or the assorted characters deliver, everything mirrors the 1970s and 1980s with accuracy and aptitude.
Unfortunately, the first hour doesn't cut ice, focusing on the mandatory light moments, songs and dramatic moments that seldom seize your attention. However, Milan and writer Rajat Aroraa make sure they reserve the best for the second hour, packing the film with heavy-duty drama and conflict that makes it captivating and engaging. Also, Milan doesn't resort to action and bloodshed -- the key aspects that are inevitable for any gangster film -- to carry the story frontward. These elements, although part of the narrative, are used as garnishing wherever essential. In a way, Milan attempts a gangster film, but steers clear of factors that could eclipse the love story, drama and conflict in the narrative.
Like I pointed out earlier, while the prequel held the spectators by its ears and eyes, ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! suffers because the grip is absent from the very start itself [which was the highpoint of the prequel]. Also, the villain [Mahesh Manjrekar] is just not authoritative or commanding enough here. But the writer springs a surprise by making the don [Akshay] vicious and vindictive towards the latter half, which adds a lot of weight to the proceedings. The final moments, starting with the fiery confrontation involving Akshay and Sonakshi, when she mistakes his friendship for love, right till the closing stages of the film, the graph of the film only soars upwards.
Milan gets ample support from the DoP [Ayananka Bose; top notch] as well as the art department [well done, yet again!] to impart his vision on screen. The styling is unflawed, while the background score enlivens the ambiance at numerous junctures. The high point, of course, is the dialogue penned by Rajat Aroraa, which contributed enormously to the last two films and makes a significant contribution this time too. The conversations are compelling, forceful and power-packed. Pritam's music is in sync with the mood of the film. 'Yeh Tune Kya Kiya' and 'Tayyab Ali' [from AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY] are noteworthy compositions.
Milan is a connoisseur who extracts proficient performances from his actors and this is apparent in ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! as well. Akshay enacts the grey character with flourish. He adds a lot of novelty and uniqueness to his character, underplaying it magnificently and modulating his voice dexterously. After playing urban characters in his earlier films, Imran plays a desi character [his second this year!] this time, catching you by complete surprise yet again. It won't be erroneous to state that he's the dark horse. Sonakshi seems to be improving with every film. Besides exuding the right amount of innocence, she goes on to demonstrate that she can handle emotional outbursts really well, especially during the climax confrontation with Akshay.
Sonali Bendre Behl doesn't get much scope, but shines in the powerful sequence with Akshay. Sophie Choudhry sizzles in a cameo. Sarfaraz Khan does well. Mahesh Manjrekar is wasted. Ditto for Abhimanyu Singh, who doesn't get much scope. Pitobash, Hussain Shaikh, Mushtaq Khan and Chetan Hansraj are alright.
On the whole, ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! has a powerful second half and the drama/conflict helps the film regain ground, after a shaky first hour. However, the fact cannot be denied that ONCE UPON AY TIME IN MUMBAI DOBAARA! pales in comparison to its prequel.