A triangle with no points
The Dawood prototype in Milan Luthria’s new film, mindlessly titled Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara!, is a raunchy playboy who transforms into a wrathful and obsessive lover. Not a diabolical underworld don by miles. There is something incongruous about a Dawood remotely akin to Rahul in Darr. That Akshay Kumar plays the role with a lot of relish does not really help. The ersatz, 1970s-style dialogue-baazi, many notches worse than those in Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010), combined with Kumar’s hammy, monotone performance—his tricks for the role include craning his neck to the left and a swagger that works only in slow motion—add to the banal claptrap that it is.
Shoaib (Kumar) returns to Mumbai from Dubai—after realizing that a rival, Rawal (Mahesh Manjrekar) is trying to kill him. He hoodwinks the Mumbai police immediately upon entry and gets to the job. Twelve years ago, Shoaib had hired two teenaged boys, Aslam (Imran Khan) and his friend Dedh Taang (Pitobash Tripathy), who are now petty robbers on local trains. The don summons the boys and entrusts Aslam with the job of killing Rawal.
Meanwhile, both Shoaib and Aslam separately meet a Kashmiri girl Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), who aspires for Bollywood stardom. The two men are in love with Jasmine, a brain-dead woman, who has the peculiar knack of misconstruing everything ever told to her. Naïvely enough, she does not realize why Shoaib is helping her achieve stardom. Conveniently for writer Rajat Aroraa, she does not know that Shoaib and Aslam know each other. The two love stories move in two parallel universes until the obvious truth is discovered with much drama, leading up to a night of glass-crashing, headbanging duel between the two men on the streets of Dongri. In all of this, the Mumbai police, helmed by an officer played by Abhimanyu Shekhar Singh, watch helplessly.
The screenplay moves without any logic, but besides the obvious loopholes in the story, what’s exasperating is the utter lack of wit in the writing. That’s the least you expect from a movie that is setting itself up as a masala don love story. You expect it to be humorous in a camp way, which Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai and Luthria’s last film, The Dirty Picture, had plenty of. An entire sequence and crucial narrative point in the film is about the wrong use of the word “intercourse”—Jasmine mumbles it and blurts it out, Aslam labours over explaining what it means, and the don just doesn’t get it. Somewhere in downtown Mumbai, Shoaib gifts a highrise resembling a 1980s’ Antilla to Jasmine. The doltish maiden is flustered, and tells him she can’t accept it because she considers him “just a friend”. Don is shaky and livid. The teary and hysterical woman runs for her life. Scenes like these abound. The only scene that stood out to me is when Shoaib walks into a Mumbai police station while the entire police force is deliberating how to capture Shoaib. He stands there, nobody notices him, and he walks out.
Kumar tries his best to own the dialogues, delivering them with an animated force, but their lack of sparkle is reminiscent of the dialogues in the films of Kanti Shah. When Shoaib returns to Mumbai, he observes how Mumbai has changed—“Mumbai Kumkum se Kimi Katkar ki tarah lag rahi hai”. Introducing himself to a woman at a cricket stadium, Shoaib mutters, “Main ab khiladi nahin, poora khel hoon”. He blusters to his flunky, in his kitschy inner chamber, “Subah ki local se leke raat ki botal tak, Mumbai mein ek hi naam hona chahiye, Rawal, Rawal, Rawal.” With every passing scene and every passing moment, unimaginative dialogues like these bog you down until the climax, which is just plain noise and melodrama.
Luthria is a stylish film-maker, known to go for the big sweeps and the extra lighting. Ayananka Bose’s cinematography has flair, but barring a few scenes, there is hardly anything beautiful or mood-inducing about the visuals. Luthria’s storytelling is loose and sloppy.
Then there’s the odd casting. Much as he tries, Kumar has no surprise or sexiness in his reprisal of an evil, lusty don. Khan’s staple expression in the film is furrowed eyebrows and a moony countenance. While dancing to the Amar Akbar Anthony classic Tayyab Ali Pyar ka Dushman suits him the most, a long monologue about love and fidelity inside a hospital room where Jasmine is lying comatose, exacerbates his performance to the level of a complete amateur. Sinha has her moments, but again, this is an uninspired, confused and pathetic character and matching that, she is just about mediocre in her histrionics.
Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! is the worst I have seen of Luthria. All his previous films are a celebration and relish of stylish pulp. This is a misfire in style as well as story.
Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! released in theatres on Thursday.