Director: Sanjay Gupta
Cast: John Abraham, Emraan Hashmi, Rohit Roy, Mahesh Manjrekar, Prateik Babbar, Kajal Aggarwal, Amole Gupte
If Vaastav and Agneepath had a baby, and Sarkar and Shootout at Lokhandwala had a baby, and those two babies then grew up in an underground bunker and had their own baby, this baby would still not be Mumbai Saga. But if this baby gets replaced in the hospital ward by an underpaid nurse with a battery-powered Chucky doll that parents and relatives humanize out of politeness, the result is Mumbai Saga. In line with the current rage in Hindi cinema, much of Sanjay Gupta’s new gangster film – as well as its filmmaking – is based in the 1990s.
Mumbai Saga is loosely based on a real-life character from the Chotta Rajan underworld, Amartya Rao, played by John Abraham in a way that renders all historical fact and cultural context irrelevant. The Marathi twang makes way for primal snarls, local texture makes way for sepia-tinted scowls, man makes way for machine. In the first twenty minutes, Abraham’s Rao (or Rao’s Abraham) is shown breaking everything but artistic standards – skulls, legs, hands, spines – to rise to the top of the city’s organized crime sector. At one point, we see him being mentored by Suniel Shetty on a boat that seems to aggressively pick up speed in the water, as though it were trying to overcompensate for the spectacular lack of acting by the humans on board.
Rao’s boss is a Thackeray-inspired Mahesh Manjrekar, who looks incredibly restrained in the face of a Byculla-lite movie that looks designed to destroy memories of his own underworld epic, Vaastav. Appropriately, the background score credit (who else but Amar Mohile) appears on the image of violent men using sledgehammers on a bulletproof car. At the interval point, just when I thought Rao’s origin story is over, Emraan Hashmi pops up as a cop who vows to nab him. Then a whole second movie begins and ends. Abraham gets a few Dhoom-redux moments, where he smugly fools the policeman in broad daylight. Amole Gupte gets to do his trademark Maharashtrian thuggisms. Prateik Babbar emerges only to end up in a wheelchair. The climax takes place in an empty airfield, with a plane, a fuel truck, a van and a pistol outperforming everyone else in the frame. Hashmi has grown on me over the years, but his manner of delivering stylish punchlines still makes it sound like he’s flirting with the air.
Speaking of stylish lines, the dialogue of Mumbai Saga is not dissimilar in tone to that of the excellent Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. Sample this: Aaj se tera qissa khatam aur meri kahaani shuru. Or this: Bandook se goli nikli toh na Eid dekhti hai na Holi. The writer (Vaibhav Vishal) is the same. But Scam 1992 was about a lavish protagonist obsessed with retro Bollywood heroes – a man who was acutely aware of just how corny his words sounded. But Mumbai Saga tries to be the movies that Mehta would watch and imitate. There is no sense of irony or self-awareness – it’s all dead serious and dead cringy. The consequence is Rajat-Arora-isms, where a script occasionally interrupts a barrage of random one-liners. Amidst all this, an item song composed by (Yo Yo) Honey Singh featuring Gulshan Grover staring at the girl is perhaps the least of Mumbai Saga’s grave crimes. After all, the last time we saw a Mumbaikar so stubbornly stuck in the late 90s, Indian cricket regressed by two years.