The yellowish frames of Sanjay Gupta‘s Mumbai Saga bring a childish phrase to mind: yellow yellow, dirty fellow. Indeed, everyone here is dirty in their own way. Be it the one-dimensional villain, the hero who commits crimes, the hero’s love interest who encourages him to commit crimes, the politician or the police. After introspecting on this plight, Shivaji Rao from Nayak: The Real Hero would have very well declared in front of the media, “Everybody. Sab ke sab gande hain saale.” Note: John Abraham’s character has Rao Naik in his name.
On the surface, Mumbai Saga is one of those Masala Movies that have a larger-than-life protagonist who towers above both the bullets and the bad guys (none of them is allowed to damage him until the climax). Characters talk in rhyme, bodies disobey gravity, walls are made out of paper, and shops are destroyed during a fight scene. It’s tough being a shopkeeper in such movies. It’s tougher to sit for almost 2 hours and 5 minutes for something half-baked and overdrawn. Mumbai Saga is painted with the broadest strokes, simplifying the elements of a crowd-pleaser to the bare minimum. Amartya Rao’s (John Abraham) desire to access the VIP line in a temple, his abstinence from violence, his romance (and wedding) with Seema (Kajal Aggarwal), his descent to the underworld, and his cat-and-mouse game with Inspector Vijay Savarkar (Emraan Hashmi) are not allowed to breathe or even register at all. When Amartya walks in the VIP queue, you don’t feel his mini-victory. His graph from non-violence to violence is mechanical as events appear to be purposefully crafted in a particular manner so that he finds his way to the world of the gangsters. In a blink, he marries Seema. In a blink, 8 years go by. In a blink, however, Mumbai Saga does not reach its conclusion.
John has the muscles but not the expressions to carry an emotional moment. In the movie, his performance borders on parody. When he shouts in pain, you laugh. Dialogues like, “Dum toh teri hai nahi, toh Gaitonde ke saamne kya hilata hai” and “Dekh, suraj ko last time dekh, kyunki kal se tere liye nahi ugega” don’t come across as quips but comic relief. The actors act so gravely that their performances become ludicrous. If Gupta had told them to not take anything seriously, then at least we would have gotten a funny, self-aware burlesque of a crowd-pleasing movie. Because if you look closely, you will find that Mumbai Saga is a spoof movie in the guise of a masala movie (a villain wears black shades on top of the transparent ones). Scenes burst with comedy, like the one where Samir Soni’s character gets fed up with the security checks at Gaitonde’s (Amole Gupte) lair and slaps a guard. When Amartya asks Bhau (Mahesh Manjrekar) the name of the school where his grandson studies, the scene ends with Bhau making a face that invokes chuckles from within. Gupta needed to convert his humour from unintentional to intentional. If only the film had accepted its truth instead of suppressing it, we could have gotten something along the lines of trashy entertainment.
But entertainment is far from Gupta’s vision, as he damages your nerves with loud noise. After a while, every sound, every moment and every beat seems to be working at the same volume. You don’t experience ups and downs but a straight line. Your face becomes stoic and your body numb. I had to recall my senses to understand the context in which Honey Singh is using the words “hilega hilega.” This is an A-certificate film, and the song has a seductive dancer with Mr. Singh. You never know when things could take a turn towards the male anatomy. I would not be surprised if you walk out considering Hashmi to be a somewhat better presence in this movie. He doesn’t need to work hard when other players seem to be saying lines out of a teleprompter (refer to the meeting between Savarkar and Arjun Rao played by Prateik Babbar). When a commissioner asks Savarkar, “What is this nonsense?”, I wanted to hug him and shout, “Ditto!”
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.