mumbai saga

John Abraham stars in “Mumbai Saga.” (Publicity Photo)

Gangster films, as made in Hindi cinema, follow a certain template, which is general, come Ram Gopal Varma, Vishal Bhardwaj, Sanjay Gupta or anyone else. Of these, Gupta probably goes for the highest production values (read budgets) and the maximum assembly of stars.

This time, he chooses to keep the star baggage at low-medium range, with John Abraham heading the cast, a lukewarm combo of Pratik, Kajal Agarwal, Suniel Shetty (cameo yet again, Anna?) and Emraan Hashmi as the antagonist. In a “lawless” film, the antagonist will be the cop, see? For good measure there are ex-lead artistes Rohit Roy, Samir Soni and Anjana Sukhani in smaller but important roles.

The story is basic. Amartya Naik (John Abraham) cuts down the hand of a gangster from a motley breed of extortionists who periodically come to predate in their mandi (vegetable market), who has nearly killed his younger brother Arjun. The extortions stop, but obviously problems begin for Amartya, who is a tough superman of sorts. He comes into confrontation with the chief gangster Gaitonde (Amole Gupte).

We are once again in the 1980s-1990s era and soon Amartya meets Bhau (Mahesh Manjrekar), supposed to represent a version of the Shiv Sena founder, who takes him under his wing and Amartya turns into a noble (!) professional gangster. He also goes to jail for a while where he encounters cell-mate Nari Khan (Gulshan Grover), in for a narcotics haul, and strikes up a lasting friendship after a jail brawl with Gaitonde’s goons.

Amartya and his close friends are trained by Sada Anna (Suniel Shetty) in firearms et al and soon become powerful. So powerful and effective, in fact, that Amartya sends his younger brother (grown up to be Prateik) abroad so that his enemies will not get him. And a high monetary reward is placed on Amartya’s head.

Ace encounter specialist Savarkar (Emraan Hashmi) wonders what he will do with so much money…

And then it’s a cat-and-mouse game between Amartya and Savarkar with the usual double-crosses and betrayals and murders. The climax and whatever happens before can be so easily predicted and even scripted by anyone who has watched six such movies, including the Gupta oeuvre of “Shootout At Lokhandwala,” “Shootout At Wadala” and more.

Despite this predictability and the supremely repetitious plot, I honestly quite liked the first half and a lot of the second as well. There was a certain likeable quotient in the character of Amartya and his relationships with his family and the childhood friends who are his associates. The machinations of the cowardly Gaitonde and Bhau too are quite novel and I liked Nari Khan’s no-nonsense dignity.

Most of these characters (Gupte, Manjrekar, Grover and John’s bum-chums Rohit Roy, Vivaan Parashar and Shaad Randhawa) have been crisply written and finely defined. John himself evokes a good amount of sympathy and all their performances are of high order. Kajal Aggarwal gives a good account of herself, though Anjana Sukhani is too shrill. But Emraan Hashmi’s essay somehow comes across as too fake and calculated. His performance suffers on that count and his mannerisms are too patent.

When he had launched the film, Gupta and I had exchanged tweets and I had suggested he sign a single composer entity for some melodious songs, as Gupta’s sense of music (“Aatish,” “Hameshaa,” “Kaante,” “Musafir” et al) is eclectic but known. He had said that he will not disappoint me, but this is one area where he falls short. The three songs are composed by three entities and none can be remembered after they are over. The background score (Amar Mohile) is just about alright.

Shikhar Bhatnagar’s camerawork and Bunty Negi’s editing are good. Anbariv’s and Javed Karim’s action is of a high standard, even if there is nothing out of the ordinary.

Watch this one if you are a (Hindi) gangster movie fan. Or John Abraham’s. Otherwise, “Mumbai Saga” (an overambitious title indeed) is not really a classic of any sort.

Rating: **1/2

Produced by: Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Anuradha Gupta & Sangeeta Ahir

Directed by: Sanjay Gupta

Written by: Sanjay Gupta, Vaibhav Vishal & Robin Bhatt

Music: Payal Dev, Tanishk Bagchi & Yo Yo Honey Singh

Starring: John Abraham, Emraan Hashmi, Kajal Aggarwal, Suniel Shetty (Sp. App.), Rohit Roy, Anjana Sukhani, Mahesh Manjrekar, Prateik Babbar, Gulshan Grover, Amole Gupte, Akash Khurana, Samir Soni, Rajendra Gupta, Shaad Randhawa, Vivaan Parashar, Ivan Rodrigues, Tithi Raaj, Rohit Kadu Deshmukh & others

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