Mumbai, 19 Mar 2021 18:26 IST
The film appears interesting simply because of the choice of real-life characters it tries to portray.
Following the success of Satya (1998) and Vaastav (1999), gangster films have been done to death in Hindi cinema, often by the person who helmed Satya, Ram Gopal Verma.
Sanjay Gupta’s Mumbai Saga shows some welcome signs in the first half of standing apart from the many poorly crafted gangster films with its characters based on real persons.
Mumbai Saga starts in the mid-1980s in Mumbai, then Bombay. Amartya Rao (John Abraham) is the son of a vegetable vendor. His father and other vendors are regularly harassed by thugs of gangster Gaitonde (Amole Gupte) who extort hafta (protection money). Amartya stops this practice single-handedly by bashing up Gaitonde’s goons.
This lands him in jail, but he is bailed out by Bhau (Mahesh Manjrekar), head of an aggressive political party that claims to work for the uplift of the local Marathi-speaking population. Amartya becomes more powerful with Bhau’s support. But he is worried about the safety of his younger brother Arjun (Prateik Babbar).
As Amartya’s clout and evil deeds spread further, in comes police inspector and encounter specialist Savarkar (Emraan Hashmi) to stop him in his tracks.
Anyone aware of Mumbai's underworld history would recognize gangster Amar Naik and his brother Ashwin in Amartya and Arjun. The writers and director also let you know, if indirectly, that Bhau is based on the late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. He even makes a speech where he says (translated), “The government has the man from Dubai [hinting at Dawood Ibrahim] but I have the man from Dadar [Amartya Rao].” How many more hints do you need?
Yet, the characters feel superficial. The narrative never delves deep into them or establishes them properly. For example, the simple Amartya becomes an underworld 'don' in no time without any hurdles. It is as if the director was keen to keep up the film's pace. The characters become victims of a rushed job and seem like caricatures.
The film gets interesting when Savarkar is introduced just before the interval and he gets going against Amartya. But the battle of wits culminates in a lukewarm way, leaving you feeling cheated.
The VFX work and production design also leave a lot to be desired. The audience can clearly tell scenes that are not from the film's period. The renovated Wankhede stadium of 2011, the local trains with the new colours, and a posh washroom with modern ceramic fittings are a few examples.
If you look at it purely from the entertainment point of view, since it’s aimed at the masses, Mumbai Saga is watchable for its fast narrative and some punchy dialogues. The other plus is Hashmi, who is playing a cop for the first time. The actor appears in fine form after a long time and keeps the film from falling apart. The scene where he motivates his juniors to be fearless is worthy of applause.
But apart from him, no other actor delivers. John Abraham falters once again and is reduced to screaming. He is saved simply by his looks, style and swag. The performances of Mahesh Manjrekar, Kajal Aggarwal, Prateik Babbar, Gulshan Grover and Ronit Roy are all average. Gupta simply does not manage to do better than his previous underworld drama, Shootout At Wadala (2013).
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