Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010) and Rajneeti (2010)

I'm always down for good gangster or political camp movies -- there are enough similarities across those themes, as right or wrong as that might sound -- and here are two that have most if not all the elements of good ones, while staying true to their masala roots.

Both have violence and politics (and lots of it) at their core. They have their rags-to-riches tales, and the lust for power as chief inspirational forces. They have very interesting and often quotable commentary on loyalty. Their attempts to justify wrong-doing (let's face it, the protagonists are, after all, criminals) are unabashed and unapologetic.

In their own words, they hope to bring viewers to the point where we root for a criminal (albeit the lesser evil, at least in most cases). And since they apparently are targeted to appeal primarily to those in my age and gender demographic (the 18-35 male, booyeah!), they also have rather pretty women for whom, it turns out, most of my kind would apparently give up our lifelong earnings and peace of mind, no matter the risk. Right. (Okay, we aren't heartless, after all.)

Along their production cycles, both faced speculation they're based on high-profile, real-world personalities (whether it be celebrity Mumbai gangsters Haji Mastaan and Dawood Ibrahim, or face of a political party, Sonia Gandhi), which arguably help them. Both do more than enough to dispel that speculation. Although we often find what we seek and where, let's please treat these movies as fiction for the purposes of this discussion, while appreciating they're close enough to reality to have been inspired by it at some level.

So how could they possibly go wrong? Good news is, they don't, thanks to the several outstanding performances that define them. Yet, one outshines the other in terms of completeness of script, dialogue, music, and overall packaging, so let's begin there.



That would be the latest release, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. The city's underworld needs no introduction, including from a Bollywood perspective. And boy does this movie do a good job of translating it to screen or what! It's almost an outlier in its genre, because while the much of the sleaze inherent in addressing the theme is avoided, the avoidance means there's enough room to focus on much else. Much else like the nuances of relationships -- father-son, boss-subordinate, mentor-protege, law-criminal, criminal-God, mole-gang, insecure-wealth/power, and many many more -- including those involving the lead criminals played by Ajay Devgan and Emraan Hashmi, and their love interests played by Kangana Ranaut and Prachi Desai respectively.

The movie revolves around these four and a leading cop, ACP Randeep Hooda, who narrates the story in what is a flashback. And it's fun to see them all do their thing. There are few as reliable in this genre as Ajay Devgan. And we've known for a while that Hashmi is more than capable of the fine job he's done here, and a lot more than he's been assigned. This should up his stock, and it's about time those who've managed to avoid him take note! (Should you want to give his past works a chance, see Awarapan (2007).)

If you're a fan of either actress, too, you'll find the script affords them more screen time than the average gangster movie. And that's a good thing. They're both really, really good, and not just in the looks and grace departments! Yes, more than just looks...

...and sheer grace and class. 8)

'Mumbai gone rewind' is laden with some excellent dialogue (Rajat Arora; plenty of effective keepers, ably delivered) and some good music (Pritam "I don't need to vouch for my integrity" Chakrobarty). The art direction (Nitin Desai) is superb. As one would expect, it has some classic references to Bollywood icons of the time (think Dimple, Helen, the Bachchan), and also has a smooth pace throughout, at a little over two hours of run time, culminating with a dramatic and suspenseful end.

Not much else I ask for in a movie of its genre. What is shown is not new or different. How it's shown, is. Give Ajay Devgan an emotional core in this kind of film -- he'll go against what the law permits, but not against what his conscious does -- and give Emraan Hashmi the reckless abandon to execute to win at all costs, and you have the makings of a fun gangster movie with what is required to make it tick. Four stars then, for Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai. I'm trying to keep my enthusiasm for it in check, so I won't compare it just yet to the likes of my other favorites Company (2002) or Deewaar (1975), but after one viewing, I know it certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside them. This one's a keeper.

Movie rating: 4/5 (Excellent!)
Yes, I'm a sucker for gangster movies and yes, I like this cast, but this one's good regardless. :)

Music rating: 3.5/5 (Very good!)
'Pee Loon' by Mohit Chauhan is a keeper.

My classification: R (For theme, violence)
That's a conservative rating; should be okay for 15+, really.

Official website (and picture source):



How's this for a cast? Arjun Rampal, Ranbir Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpai, Katrina Kaif, and yet some more good supporting actors. Whew! They're great, side-by-side. Rampal and Kapoor step it up a few notches just to keep up with their veteran counterparts, who are, as always, excellent. (There's that guy Devgan again!)

Rajneeti would have been better off without the songs, which don't move the story forward and add to the length of an already long film, at almost three hours. Its second half is essentially a Godfather rehash when it didn't need to be. And there's a reliance on redundancy that is often unexplained and unnecessary in that context.

Yet, there's lots more to like about it. The dialogue is as good as in any 2010 film, and so is the background score. Plot's intriguing, and the suspense is adequate. The cinematography is brilliant, as is the art direction (Ranbir's wardrobe!).

It's not often that Bollywood characters favor the American woman (Sarah Thompson; we need better foreign acting talent!) over the Indian, and it's refreshing to see one (Ranbir's), no matter how cunning, keep that commitment. Of course, Katrina Kaif is stunning throughout, and that love square they have going is an interesting distraction to tone down on everything else happening elsewhere.

And it really is 'everything else'. The political rivalries, camp mentalities, sleaze of all sorts, ruthlessness, hypocrisy, show-and-tell, all while, while manipulating a nation which has more poor than the continent of Africa. (Which is, in reality and as the history of the world has shown, not too difficult to do, in context.) Democracy has its pitfalls, and Rajneeti -- the study of politics -- does a fine job of illustrating how those pitfalls can be and are being exploited.

Close to four stars, then. It's a pity some of the letdowns are significant enough to impact the overall perception of what is otherwise an effort worth lauding. If it weren't a half hour too long, it could be an easy four. There's too much that's right with this to ignore it, definitely worth one watch.

Movie rating: 3.75/5 (Very good!)

Music rating: 3/5
Great background score. Good soundtrack.

My classification: NC-17
For theme, language, violence.

Official website (and picture source):


R Zaib said...

Thanks for the sincere reviews; they helped me in choosing whether I should watch the movies or not.

Its good to see that Emraan Hashmi actually kept his promise of getting rid of his promiscuous title and appearing in good films. Ranbir Kapoor looks quite attractive in this role (Rajneeti) and as for Katrina, I just hope she manages to deliver dialogues with emotions this time.

Planning to watch the two movies soon. Thanks! :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you for your comment, R Zaib! You're welcome any time. :)

I think Emraan's done quite well over the last couple (seen 'Jannat' or 'Tum Mile'?), but he needed a breakout film with a solid cast and script, and he seems to have gotten it here. Hope he keeps up the momentum, and as you say, that he finally gets to shed the label of player. By now, he's done too well to deserve to still be associated with that label.

Katrina did well in Rajneeti, and I think the background score helped with the emotional bits. And Ranbir's been doing really well, too, he's definitely here for the long term.

Do report back when you've seen them, I hope you like these movies! And thank you again.

Nicki said...

I've heard mix reviews of Rajneeti (mostly good though) but I would watch it anyways. I am like you (but unlike most women)...I like movies about politics and gangsters. I'm glad to see Emraan in more films, I still think that man is so underrated! I haven't seen a Hindi film in a while but I will as soon as these two hit dvds :D

theBollywoodFan said...

I hope you like them as much as I did, Nicki. And you say it how it is with the genres and their typical audiences! :) You know I've always preferred movies that are closer to reality, and it's fun when those can be combined with masala.

We've talked about Emraan being underrated, let's hope this gets him the fair positive criticism he deserves!

Thank you for stopping by.

Masakalli (via Twitter) said...

So glad to see your new reviews! Very excited to see once upon a time in Mumbai!

Anonymous said...

Hi tbf, Have not seen Rajneeti, but saw OUATIM after reading your review. Just wanted to say I agree. Good going, keep recommendations coming! :)

Filmi Girl said...

You know what interesting is that I thought Raajneeti and OUATIM were very similar, as well!!

I was also pleased that both seemed fairly fresh - without the stink of yet another remake, despite the Godfather similarities in Raajneeti.

Ajay was good in both but I agree that OUATIM is better all around.

R Zaib said...

TheBollywoodFan - I haven't those two movies of his yet but I heard they went well, so I will watch them too.

Yes, I will definitely report back and comment on the reviews once again. :P

triShie said...

I shudder to think when i'll get to watch these two movies.. the wait is killing! ..your reviews only make the need bigger, haha!

btw, bought and watched Awarapan yesterday. the music's perfect. and hey, Emraan Hashmi deserves credit, for sure! am sure Ajay's excellent as ever! :)

ps: i love Pee Loon and Tum Jo Aaye (Reprise)!

theBollywoodFan said...

Masakkali: Thank you much for reading, hope you like the movie!

Anoymous: Glad you liked it, have you seen Raajneeti?

Filmi Girl: Definitely agree about these being void of the stink of yet another remake. The stories weren't novel, but they made for fun consumption, no doubt.

There was this part in OUATIM where they play 'Babu Rao', just summed up the movie for me. Such a lust for life, so well portrayed on screen! I ought to stop with my praises, I can't wait to see it again, LOL.

theBollywoodFan said...

R Zaib: You're always welcome! Happy viewing. :)

triShie: Good luck waiting. Trust me when I say I know *exactly* how it feels.

Glad you liked Emraan in Awarapan, what did you think of the movie overall? Would 'gangsta with soul' be a fair way to put it? And yes, the songs in OUATIM are quite good, funny thing is, I thought 'Babu Rao' fit it best. Such manipulation, cinema can be so magical!

triShie said...

lol, thanks for the good luck!

i'd summarise Awarapan as "Raw". stretching cultural/religous boundaries, challenges of human/personal values, physical violence... still, yeah, "gangsta with soul" rocks it too! :)

i don't understand the whole of 'Babu Rao' but, "mast" means great/awesome? if yeah, then, it shud describe the movie perfectly! lol!..

ps: when are we gonna be graced with more song translations? :D

Dolce and Namak said...

I've been looking for reccomendations to figure out whether or not to go see Once Upon a Time in Mumbai this week, and you just sealed the decision for me by comparing it with Raajneeti.
I loved R., even though I felt a little bit guilty for loving it (for reasons that you also mentioned in the beginning of your post). As for the masala factor, I fully agree and I love it, when I blogged about it I compared Raajneeti with Om Shanti Om rather than with other gangster movies, because it has the same amount of over the top-ness while still managing to expose a world that we know very little about.

Can't wait to go see Once Upon a Time tomorrow :)


theBollywoodFan said...

triShie: 'Raw' is definitely a good way to describe Awarapan.

'Mast' can mean great/awesome, in this context, I like to think it means 'it's all good (in the hood)', LOL.

I've fallen behind on the song translations. Don't mean to sound too critical, but the lyrics Bollywood has been throwing our way recently have hardly been worth celebrating or inspiring.

Tesoro! Uh-oh. LOL. I hope you like OUATIM! Do report back. And please ensure Dolce is in fine form when you go see it. :D Oh, and by the way, lovely profile picture you got there, in case I haven't mentioned it before.


triShie said...

hhhmmm... good point. i trust ur judgements on the current Bolly-lyrics. which makes it more interesting to see which song you choose to translate next! :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Haha! Despite your warning, Dolce was not really expecting much on the fangirling front from this one, but was pleasantly surprised: Hel-lo ACP Angel Wilson!! :D

Good movie, but I can't say I liked it better than Raajneeti. It's certainly a better told story (and Ajay works wonderfully in this role, unlike in R.). But see, one of the things I really appreciated about R. was the social commentary: the mob mentality, the media manipulation, the balance of power, all these subtle points that it makes outside the main story. OUATIM didn't have any of that (except for the scene between Rehana and ACP which was awesome). But the performances make up for that (and good Lord, when did Kangana become so gorgeous and majestic???), and the story is told in an engaging enough way to keep you interested.

My fav scene: when Sultan first meets Rehana. It had me in stitches! :)

Didn't care for the ending though (well, R. didn't do much better with the ending either): felt like it was just left there, didn't communicate anything. It was missing one of those black screens with white writing explaining where this character ended up and what happened to that other one. Oh right, I forget, this is NOT based on a true story... Whatevs :D

Still, very pleased that I saw it, definitely worth it for the performances! Ajay has not impressed me so much since Omkara (and coincidentally he was sporting that dashing moustache there too :D).

Bollyviewer said...

I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with Rajneeti - only a 'bit' because blogland reviews had warned me not to expect too much. With a name like that, I expected politics to play the lead, not just put in a guest appearance! Frankly, I thought it was closer to a full-on 80s revenge melodrama than an intelligent film on Indian politics. And getting a slim, almost-white looking Katrina to wear a saree like Sonia Gandhi, while killing off her hubby in a blast, hardly makes it "based on high-profile, real-world personalities"! Might I point out that with the exception of Pramod Mahajan, fratricide is NOT a common feature of Indian politics. They may not be the smoothest operators but Indian politicians do live a whole lot longer than this film tries to make out. Aah Prakash Jha... I wish he would stick to the kind of masala he does best - like in Mrityudand.

Shazz said...

Rajneeti is a good movie. All the actors act beautifully, especially Katrina Kaif looks very different in it.

Filmbuff said...

I found Rajneeti precitable - infact one of my friends who was watching the DVD along with me was amazed that I was able to predict most of it even though we both were seeting it for the first time. I liked Arjun Ramphal's performance though.

OUTIM was a good movie - taut script and good overall performaces. For once the female leads had a meaningful role. I liked Emran's performance in Jannat (was that the movie based in South Africa about betting in cricket?) and Tum Mile. I must say I was a bit apprehensive of watching these movies based on his earlier "player" image as you rightly put it.

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you for your comment, Filmbuff! I'd mostly agree on the predictability quotient in Rajneeti, particularly in the second half.

Glad you liked OUATIM! Yes, Jannat was the movie about cricket-centric betting, based in South Africa. Also glad you liked Tum Mile, I quite liked it as discussed here.