Ever since watching Milan Luthria's brilliant The Dirty Picture, I've been meaning to check out his previous hit, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. I'm happy to report than when I finally did, I wasn't disappointed in the least. While Luthria may have began his career with the fairly forgettable Kachche Dhaage (starring Ajay Devgan and Saif Ali Khan in 1999), and Chori Chori, which I could barely sit through (despite severe cuteness from Rani Mukherjee) he's certainly progressed into one of the most solid film makers in India today.
OUATIM tells the story of Sultan Mirza (Ajay Devgan), an orphan who rises through the ranks of Mumbai's underworld into the benevolent don of the city around the 1970's. He helps out the common man when the state cannot do enough, and through these actions, his reputation is good among just about everybody but the police. As he rules Mumbai, another child grows up: Shoaib (Emraan Hashmi) is trouble from the beginning, and does not improve as he matures.
There's nothing mind-blowing about this tale of two gangsters and their power struggle, but so much can be said for the film getting everything right. Both Ajay and Emraan are fantastic in the leads, and their co-stars are also wonderful to watch. Prachi Desai as Mumtaz, Shoiab's girlfriend, is tragic in her attempts to ground the man who only seems to go from bad to worse, hinging on sociopath-like in his quest for more power. Kangna Raut plays Rehana, an actress who catches the eye of Sultan, with confident ease. It's certainly not the most challenging role for Kangna, who I know can do more, but it's fun to watch her in this, and her chemistry with Ajay just won me over.
The sole questionable aspect of the film is perhaps the portrayal of Sultan as a doer of good and a man who provides the city with a certain balance. The streets are safer, people's problems get sorted through him, the film implies, but he's still a smuggler and a gangster. This is not the only film where criminals seem the most moral of characters, despite their actions, and in that it largely reminded me of Nayagan, the Mani Ratnam classic that also tells the tale of an underworld don in Mumbai. The contrast between Sultan and Shoiab certainly makes you root more for the former.
Then there's the police man after Sultan - ACP Agnel Wilson, played by Randeep Hooda, whose name I was familiar with but had actually never seen on-screen prior to this movie. It's safe to say I was a goner pretty much instantly. He gives the role a certain intensity that just got me so hooked I paused the film and began looking up his filmography and mentally ticking off films I wanted to see him in. Of course, the tallness and the good looks didn't hurt, either, but I know my own tastes, and actors are rarely attractive to me unless I believe they've got some kind of talent, too. (I'll save the gushing to a post about him once I've seen more of him, for now I'll just say I'm very intrigued.)
The soundtrack is not particularly memorable (though there is a song that samples Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, one of my favourite oldies tracks ever) but fun enough. Much like TDP, Once Upon a Time In Mumbaai simply excels as a film - there isn't much I'd change or alter, and while it may not have made my top favourites like TDP did, it's certainly a film I'd recommend all around. And for once, I can see how the ending, while not open, lends itself to a sequel, which is coming out later this year, I believe. I heartily anticipate it.