In his 2010 retro gangster hit Once Upon A Time in Mumbai, director Milan Luthria relished in the world of 1980s gangsters, complete with feisty dialogues, smuggling networks, garish outfits, and a police force largely helpless in reining them in. Back with a sequel Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (OUATIMD), Luthria seeks to recreate that same world once again. The result is a far more tepid film, not nearly as enjoyable as the first.
OUATIMD continues the trajectory of character Shoaib Khan from the first film, after he has killed his own mentor Sultan (Ajay Devgn) and seeks to rule Mumbai. So the sequel starts with Shoaib (Akshay Kumar, replacing Emraan Hashmi from the first film) anointing his own apprentice, the street bike-racing Aslam (Imran Khan).
Where the first film was a delicious battle for power between two stubborn men with very different ideologies, this sequel is designed as the battle for love – the 'king' and 'prince' both fall for aspiring actress Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), setting themselves on a collision course.
Once you get over the mouthful of a title (with its extra A’s and that sneaky ‘Y’ in smaller font), OUATIMD relies mostly on mouthfuls of zingy, heavy-duty dialogues and a larger-than-life persona for Akshay Kumar. Beyond that, the film is quite disappointing.
The culprit is the inconsistent story.
Shoaib is initially enjoying a luxurious self-imposed exile in Oman, until there is an attempt to assassinate him. Realizing that was the work of a rival gangster Rawal (Mahesh Manjrekar, channeling a caricature of Prem Chopra), Shoaib is compelled to return to Mumbai to exact revenge. This is when the narrative gets murky.
Shoaib spends so much time displaying his power across Mumbai that the central love triangle feels severely delayed. Then, the film seesaws between Shoaib’s revenge plot against Rawal and his cranky, lovesick desire for Jasmine.
Where the film ultimately fails is with the love triangle. The romantic relationships lack the chemistry and passion for us to ever root for anyone.
Shoaib and Jasmine’s relationship starts off well enough, with the newbie starlet talking back to the feared gangster without a clue about who he is. The dynamic seems refreshing at first – Jasmine doesn’t tolerate his bloated ego and power trips, whether he is a murderous don or not.
But then it devolves quickly into domination, where Shoaib, lacking romantic grace, throws a barrage of expensive gifts her way, and when she finally reveals she’s not interested in him, he even slaps her to assert control.
How one wishes filmmakers would not use violence against women as a go-to dramatic tool. The character may be a feared gangster but showing him hitting the woman he supposedly loves quickly evaporates any iota of sympathy you may have had for him until that point.
The second half of the film is forced into dramatic conveniences, just to take it to the climactic showdown.
There are still some well-written scenes of humor and irony along the way, such as when Shoaib walks into a police station to surrender himself, but is completely unnoticed. Curiously, the name of the police station is blurred out in the film, perhaps to avoid embarrassment for the clueless cops depicted in that branch.
Such scenes work mostly because of Kumar’s performance. He enjoys himself in the role of Shoaib Khan and dives into the eccentricities of the era. Kumar pulls off the anti-hero with ease – he’s suave, confident, but can also be ruthless at the drop of a hat. Just watch him move in the chase scene across the rooftops of Mumbai. He looks stylish and barely breaks a sweat.
In contrast, Imran Khan comes off as awkward in his role. His lovable goon character Aslam just doesn’t match up to Shoaib’s persona, which makes his climactic standoff with his mentor rather meek. His fake moustache was far more interesting to watch.
Sonakshi Sinha, as Jasmine, is improving in her dialogue delivery with each film, but her screeching in the climax scene doesn’t do anyone any good. Despite her efforts, her character is largely hollow, painted as a dim-witted starlet who is infuriatingly naive.
It’s hard to believe why the central conflict of the film is built around her largely insubstantial character.
Of the mostly uninspired supporting cast, Pitobash stands out as Aslam’s childhood friend Dedh Taang. Sonali Bendre Bahl also makes an appearance, taking on the role of Shoaib’s now-middle-aged first love Mumtaz (played by Prachi Desai in the first film).
With OUATIMD, director Milan Luthria and writer Rajat Aroraa can’t seem to settle on a consistent tone for the story to unfold. The first film had a better flow, with the central conflict simmering steadily until the final showdown. In OUATIMD, it’s hard to know what the film is trying to focus on.
Ultimately, the main leads are mismatched, so by the time everything comes to a head, you don’t really care which way the story ends. Hefty dialogues may be one thing, but shaping story around such dialogues makes for an overall weak sequel.