Mumbai Saga opens with a sweeping aerial shot of Mumbai (or, as it was it was in the mid-90s, Bombay). It is followed by close-ups of Mahesh Manjrekar's face, whom we only know as 'Bhau'. Soon after, an industrialist is shot. The rest of the film is in flashback. These opening 4 minutes are enough for the viewers to know where this film is headed. It follows the journey of Amartya Rao, played by John Abraham, and his attempt to 'clean' Mumbai up of its gangsters and crimes.
As I sat and watched Mumbai Saga, I almost felt a sense of fatigue. Every scene, every moment gave me a sense of déjà vu. It almost felt as if director Sanjay Gupta sat down and randomly selected scenes from his filmography and then combined them into this script.
The screenplay, by Gupta and Robin Bhatt, veers between incoherent and just flat-out boring. It gets tedious very quickly because of just how stale it is. I obviously don't go into commercial potboilers expecting logic, but Mumbai Saga's narrative thread is so feeble that I wondered if Gupta chose the extravagant set-pieces first and then decided to write scenes accordingly. The dialogues by Gupta and Vaibhav Vishal are heavy-handed too.
The performances are no better. John Abraham punches and kills with sincerity, but we've seen him do this so many times before that it's exhausting. His character has been written with such hollowness that he can't do much but imbue Amartya with the most superficial mannerisms of a gangster: an erect posture and loud dialogue delivery. The performance is physically taxing but emotionally empty. The same goes for Mahesh Manjrekar, who plays a godfather of sorts to Amartya. He isn't fleshed out enough, so all he can do is use his booming baritone while delivering his dialogues. Emraan Hashmi, who enters nearly an hour into the film, tries his best to salvage the material but the rudimentary writing fails him as well. Kajal Aggarwal has precious little to do. The only actor who stands out is Amole Gupte. He's played this character many times before, but he plays Gaitonde with ease and makes him at least somewhat believable.
Throughout the film's duration hands are cut, ears are slit and bones are crushed. The film uses gore almost exploitatively, trying to pass sickening violence off as 'action'. The film is excruciating to the ears. The background score is loud and we constantly hear the sound of crunching bones. It isn't much better on the eyes. Gupta uses his trademark yellow filter, perhaps trying to symbolise just how 'dirty' Mumbai was back then. If this is symbolism, then it is very tacky; if it isn't, then it's pointless. Whatever it is, the filter doesn't do much for the film. Towards the end, the film becomes dumber with each passing moment and, if this isn't bad enough, the climactic twist is the final nail in the coffin.
Hours after Mumbai Saga was over, I had faint memories of it. Perhaps that is the problem: the film feels too familiar to be memorable. Its also marred by a sloppy screenplay and performances. Perhaps Mumbai Saga would've been a better experience in cinemas, with cheering audiences and a big tub of popcorn. But on a streaming service, where there is no dearth of good content, I don't know how many people will be able to stay with this film till the end.
On a good day, Sanjay Gupta's films can be silly, entertaining fun. Today is definitely not that day.