The main problem (and there are plenty here) with Once Upon a Time in Mumbai — Dobaara is that director Milan Luthria (The Dirty Picture, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai) can’t seem to decide whether he wants a romantic film or a crime thriller. The two genres do not mix and as Francis Ford Coppola will attest after Godfather III, putting a romantic angle into a gangster film is not the best of ideas.

A sequel to the critical and commercial success of Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Dobaara narrates the story of Shoaib Khan (Akshay Kumar) who is now the new crime boss in Mumbai. The film starts with Shoaib recruiting two street urchins into his gang, one of them being Aslam (Imran Khan) who is fiercely devoted to his new benefactor. The premise set, the viewer then has the sinking feeling that this union is bound to head into the inevitable clash and opportunity soon presents itself with the entry of Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha) who has recently come to Mumbai and, for a small town girl, is surprisingly flirty.

Nothing like the trite love triangle to spice things up but if one were to pick the trio, it is hard to come up with a more disconnected bunch. The story hurtles on from one insipid scene to the next and soon the crime boss and protégé fall for Jasmine, the former first helping her film career and then pushing her into a relationship. At the moment of capitulation she turns to Aslam for help thus leading to the predictable confrontation.

It would have worked had the leads displayed any chemistry but the trio of Akshay, Imran and Sonakshi feels forced and akin to making an omelette of fish, eggs and milk. Sonakshi’s acting is so wooden one can make a table out of it and all the melodrama cannot curtain the woeful lack of acting talent. One cannot fault Sonakshi who tries yet another hand at the sickly-sweet girl-next-door persona or Imran Khan who should realise that playing a street gangster means more than spouting a ’70s moustache and sideburns and mouthing off ‘poetic’ banalities that would put a rickshaw driver to shame. No Brando, Imran tries hard to slum it but cannot doff his prep boy image and tries to make up for a woeful performance with non sequiturs delivered with all the pathos of a mannequin.

The main fault lies with Akshay who had to know that it was him who would carry the film. He lacks the quiet menace and gravitas of an underworld don, the kind displayed by Ajay Devgan or Sanjay Dutt. He has found a great deal of success in comic roles and it seems cannot give up the clown act. Only this is a crime thriller in which the lead cannot decide whether he is a mobster or comedian. It does not help that writer Rajat Arora gave him a poor script oozing bizarre metaphors, but Akshay is a seasoned actor and should have done better than ham it and become an amateurish imitator of a vaudeville villain. His character, Shoaib Khan, has an irritating habit of quoting random proverbs and over-the-top metaphors which could be funny if this was a high school play and he wasn’t a mobster.

The other characters are also dealt poorly. Mahesh Manjrekar (Kaante) as rival gangster and antagonist Rawal is utterly wasted and one would expect the director of Vastav to be better used. A saving grace is Sonali Bandre who turns in a surprisingly sensitive performance as the aged Mumtaz, Shoaib’s old love. There is no denying Sonali’s screen presence who steals the few scenes she is in. It’s a shame the film has only snippets of her but she remains the standout performer and provides what little there is to see.

The music of Once Upon a Time in Mumbai — Dobaara is nothing to write home about. Music Director Pritam fails to impress and apart from Yeh Tu Nay Kya Kiya by Pakistani singer Javed Bashir, the soundtrack is fairly forgettable even though it tries to fit into a retro theme. Pritam even manages to spoil the M. Rafi classic, Tayyab Ali Pyar Ka Dushman.

The film has its moments. Shot in Mumbai and Oman and loosely based on Dawood Ibrahim much like Black Friday and Shootout at Lokhandwala, it manages to convey a sense of the period through authentic-looking locales and props such as vintage cars. It also has enough gangster lore to keep enthusiasts interested. For instance, the protagonist is named Shoaib Khan, a namesake of Ibrahim’s closest aide and Sonakshi’s character’s name Jasmine is uncannily close to Yasmine Joseph, the real name of Bollywood starlet Mandakini, Ibrahim’s rumored gun moll.

However, one swallow a summer does not make and overall OUTMD is a disaster. The film takes far too long to get going, keeps one waiting for an upping of tempo, starts clichéd and ends with a damp squib with a predictable climax which makes one pray that there is no third. A love story without romance and a crime thriller with no thrill, the film is at best a time-pass for what could have been an interesting take on a solid premise.

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