After the Mumbai blasts in 1993, the police lifts a car out of a river. The car belongs to Agnel Wilson(Randeep Hooda), a senior police official. When the car is recovered, the police finds out this is a suicide attempt. Later, Agnel talks about the guilt that has driven him to do such a drastic act to his furious boss. Agnel narrates the story of two men that affected his life and also changed the history of Mumbai.
One of the men is Sultan Mirza(Ajay Devgn). Sultan is an orphan who reached Mumbai after floods destroyed his village in Southern India. He got involved with smuggler while working in the docks and climbed up in the hierarchy very soon. Once powerful, he orchestrated peace within different warring factions of smugglers in Mumbai. Then, Sultan took control of the sea. He was loved and supported by the poor. He is in a relationship with the popular actress Rehana(Kangna Ranaut).
The other man is Shoaib Khan(Emraan Hashmi). Shoaib is the son of the police constable. From the childhood, he wanted a faster path to success and ends up doing illegal activities. Whenever he gets caught red-handed, Shoaib is brought in front of his dad to be punished. But these punishments do not have an effect on him. Shoaib loves Mumtaz(Prachi Desai). How are the lives of these two men connected? Also what is their connection with Agnel? The rest of the movie tells you this.
Milan Luthria directs this movie based on the script by Rajat Arora. Milan and Rajat takes one of the saddest day in the history of Mumbai and backtracks it to the power struggle between two men in the 70’s. Rajat’s story is heavily influenced by the lives of Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim. In spite of the terrific scenario, the film captures your attention in parts due to the uneven pace. The best part of the movie are the performances, the dialogues and the background score. The dialogues are reminiscent of the movies of the 1970’s where the heroes play to the gallery with their dialogues. The pace slackens during the romance scenes. The conflict between Sultan and Shoaib lacks the impact because it takes too long to evolve. Although Agnel feels guilty about the rise of the dark prince, the story does not show how Agnel exploited the rivalry between these two gangsters. Since the movie is set in 1970’s, the era is recreated. But most of the scenes lack the magic of the bygone era because of the way it is shot. Even though vintage cars are used, some of the exterior shots feels like vintage cars being driven on a present day road. Similarly, when a real location is used, like the rooftops during a song sequence and a popular restaurant overlooking the city, low angle or high angle shots are used in a deliberate attempt to film only the lead actors and show very little of the city. If the city is shown, then the audience will immediately pick up the modern developments in the city and hence will affect the authenticity of the movie.
All actors – lead and supporting – delivers a good performance. The majority of the movie rests on three actors – Ajay Devgn, Emraan Hashmi and Randeep Hooda. Ajay Devgn as Sultan is delightful while reminding us many of his previous performance. Ajay underplays Sultan. His casual way of delivering the dialogue is an interesting watch. He relies heavily on the prop – cigarette – and his facial expressions to build the mystery around Sultan. Emraan Hashmi is apt as Shoaib. Shoaib is the quintessential black sheep and Emraan gets it right. It is fun to watch his arrogance. Emraan also uses cigarette as a prop. But, it is Randeep Hooda who give a mind-blowing performance as Agnel. Unlike his colleagues, he does not use cigarette as a prop. Instead he relies on three things – smiles, smirks and voice. His smile is difficult to distinguish as evil or mischievous and the contempt is written all over his smirks. He uses both extensively in the movie. Also, watch out the way he uses voice while confronting his fellow officers who laughs behind his back. Unfortunately, Randeep’s character is short and ill developed. Kangna Ranaut is okay. Prachi Desai acts well in a role that is slightly complex. She loves Shoaib but hates his ways. She is also afraid of Shoaib’s rage.
The movie has ambitiously named itself as “Once Upon A Time” drawing inspiration from Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time…” series. Like the inspiration, this inspired movie tells the story of a critical period in a city. Unlike the inspiration, this inspired movie fails to tell a racy story of greed and deception.
Watch it on DVD.
Picture Courtesy: Bollywood Hungama