Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Again opened a bit more than three months ago on August 15th in India as well as select markets here in the USA. Directed by Milan Luthria and written by Rajat Arora, the film was billed as the sequel to Once Upon a Time in Mumbai which I reviewed here. At the end of that film, a big gangster, Sultan Mirza, aka The Don, and played by Ajay Devgn, was assassinated by Shoaib Khan. This film begins 12 years later.
Shoaib is played here by Akshay Kumar. He’s all flash, and dazzle, sartorially splendid in his neatly pressed and well-tailored clothes, and his trademark sunglasses which he wears night or day. He carries himself as if he knows that he really does look like he is capable of imposing fear or snuffing out the lives of those who oppose him. In fact, that is his calling card. He gets what he wants either by taking it outright, or by being scary enough that folks won’t dare to protest. That’s how the role is written. Akshay does his best to fill Devgn’s shoes as The Don, and the boss of all of Mumbai’s underworld. But he has a staff of just three or four guys on hand. Yes, they can hire street thugs, goondah’s in Hindi, or goons in English, at a moments notice, but his whole operation seems a tad flimsy.
Early on, Shoaib befriends a young teen-age boy, one Aslam, who of course will grow up and become Shoaib’s right hand man. The adult Aslam is played by Imran Khan.
Of course, there’s a woman – Jasmine who is played by Sonakshi Sinha. She’s an aspiring actress, from Kashmir, and she really doesn’t know anything at all about Mumbai’s underworld, or the fact that Shoaib is the kingpin. Naturally she will come to the attention of Shoaib, who as a big time crime lord, has his finger into a lot of things – including the movie business.
She’s not all that impressed by Shoaib’s power moves, in fact, she’s unaware that he is even making moves on her. She has no sense of who or what he is. And that captures his attention. Who is this girl to stand up to me is what circles round and round in his head. Of course, he is not at all used to women reacting this way towards him, so he is intrigued more and more with each day.
Meanwhile, Jasmine will meet Aslam in a completely different context. He doesn’t tell her he works for a gangster, instead he tells her that he is a tailor. He too is smitten almost immediately.
There’s your set up, as well as story construct. Think of a wheel – Sonakshi as Jasmine is at the hub, and Akshay and Imran are at either end of the spoke. The wheel goes round and round. Some how and quite implausibly, Boss and Right Hand Man remain blissfully unaware that each is after the same woman.
We see no internal stress on the part of Jasmine, because she sees Shoaib strictly as a friend, no matter how ardent he is. It doesn’t always look that way, but that’s what she will say later on.
On the other hand, Aslam acts like a tongue-tied school boy. He’s unable to speak about his feelings at all. Jasmine likes him, but she won’t make the first move. So we end up with all three of them struggling and frustrated.
Toss in some other facts like the Mumbai cops are desperate to capture Shoaib, as is another gangster who thinks Mumbai should be his turf rather than Shoaib’s.
I was disappointed with this film. Akshay as Shoaib looked the part, but he seemed either vicious or love-smitten without much of anything else in between. And most of the time he was hidden behind his big sunglasses. The script also called for him to spout out some stuff that you’d never hear in real life. Stuff that had meanings beneath the surface. You know – like warnings without saying it is a warning. Imran’s Aslam was too boyish throughout. Yes, he was honorable and loyal, and so very decent, but a beauty like Jasmine, would not have put up with his reticence for so long.
Yes, there will be a stand-off between the two men. We can even call it a shootout. The tension does mount – but the pay-off is soft-pedaled despite a rough and tumble one-sided fight in the street. This fight was weakened by Director Luthria cutting from the fight to show us Jasmine at least four separate times, and each time we see her, she is looking on, horrified as Aslam is getting the stuffings beaten out of him by Shoaib. And each time we see her during this climactic struggle, she will say one word, ‘Aslam’. I mean I understand reaction shots – but the same one, with the same ‘dialogue’ – four times? That’s weak.
While the first film had some hard edges to it in the form of politics, crime, police, and so forth, this film seems to put all of that on the back-burner and mainly settles for the two boys and girl in a triangle story line.
I didn’t like Akshay’s gangster as he seemed a bit too limited. By that I mean he was the fierce don, or he was the love-struck crime lord. Imran’s Aslam, was boyish and unimposing even when he throttled some gangster on a commuter train. The police roles, and the competing gangster, Rawal, had too little screen time to really register with the audience. They seemed to no more that stock characters written in for contrast and dramatic effect, or you could call them the extra spokes on this story’s wheel, and the actors were simply taxied in from central casting. There were some songs, and even a feature dance number but these were not standouts.
In fact, we can lump the performances of all the actors, and the even the director, and the thread bare script, into a position which I will call mediocre at best. The only standouts that I will mention were Sonakshi Sinha as Jasmine, who successfully portrayed a woman who possessed an air innocence and yet still looked ardent and passionate at the same time, and Sonali Bendre in a small role as Shoaib’s mistress. She would give an interesting short speech late in the film about how stashing a woman in an apartment, even a luxurious apartment, was not a fair deal for her, as love was never present in her life.
I will rate this one at three-point zero but I won’t go as far as recommending the film.