Mumbai Saga movie review: Sanjay Gupta’s latest gangland actioner is slick, loud and predictable

Mumbai Saga ends up being a garden-variety Sanjay Gupta film – stylish frames, fast cuts, emphatic background music, wisecracking characters, the works.

Pradeep Menon March 19, 2021 18:30:21 IST

2.5/5

If you’ve watched Apoorva Lakhia’s Shootout at Lokhandwala (co-written and produced by Sanjay Gupta), and Gupta’s own Shootout at Wadala, then you know what to expect with Mumbai Saga; and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Despite having the technical skills and sensibilities to put on a real show, Gupta still doesn’t trust his audience enough to serve us a more evolved version of his previous work. Mumbai Saga thus ends up being garden-variety Gupta – stylish frames, fast cuts, emphatic background music, wisecracking characters, the works. On a day when you’re in the mood to buy in to the hyper-sensory spirit of the film, you might enjoy it. On another day, when you’re craving something more real and believable, the same glam-heavy film might annoy you.

There ostensibly is a specific kind of male audience Gupta has targeted his film at, but there’s a possibility that even that audience has now moved on. The same audience can perhaps be thoroughly entertained by the same story, but that’s treated with a defter hand and more effort in crafting authentic characters; while still retaining the slick flavour Gupta is known for. Unfortunately, the talented writer-director seems unwilling to entertain that possibility.

Mumbai Saga movie review Sanjay Guptas latest gangland actioner is slick loud and predictable

John Abraham in a still from Mumbai Saga. Image tweeted by @_SanjayGupta

Gupta loosely bases his latest Mumbai mob flick on the chronicles of gangster Amar Naik and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar, pegged around the murder of mill-owner Sunit Khatau in the mid-90s. A perpetually-outraged John Abraham thus plays everymuscleman-turned-gangster Amartya Rao, whose murder of Sunil Khaitan (Samir Soni) earns him the ire of hotshot cop Vijay Savarkar, played to the galleries by a grinning Emraan Hashmi.

John Abraham, who is hulking it up further with every film, gets a bit of an origin story for his Amartya in the first half, ably supported by Mahesh Manjrekar’s Bhau and antagonised by Amole Gupte’s Gaitonde. These two actors know what pitch works in a masala enterprise like this one, so their hamming is fine-tuned just right. The rest of the cast is basically an ensemble of various kinds of sunglasses, beards and moustaches, a number of them obviously fake. Amid all the hypermasculinity, the only true gangster of a character in the film is Kajal Aggarwal’s Seema, Amartya’s ‘love interest’. (Yup, this is that sort of film.)

She’s mad at him for being a regular, gym-going vendor plying his trade on a rail over-bridge, but becomes his biggest cheerleader when circumstances force him to undertake a life of don-dom. I’d have loved to know more about her and how she got her pluck; but I assure you, this is definitely not that sort of film.

Still, the first half of the film passes by in a breeze of action and trippy transitions. So fast is Amartya’s rise, you could as well call him a McDon, with sidekick fries for company – Rohit Bose Roy obviously plays one of them. Amartya Rao quickly begins to ‘raj’ over the stretch from Dadar to Byculla, under the auspices of the suspiciously tiger-like politician Bhau. (If you know, you know.)

Mumbai Saga movie review Sanjay Guptas latest gangland actioner is slick loud and predictable

Emraan Hashmi in Mumbai Saga.

All of it builds up to what you know is going to happen at intermission point – the entry of the cop who’s going to stand up to the don. Unfortunately, the second big entry of the film is staged in a disappointing manner, and from there, the film is just run of the mill, so to speak. To be fair, the film is a brisk 127 minutes in length, and for good measure Amar Mohile’s thumping background score will not let you grab a nap between punches and gunshots.

Tales of the unholy nexus between gangsters, cops and politicians always have the potential to be crafted into gripping cinema. But films such as this can only be truly engaging with more rounded characters, ones that you can invest in. There is a great deal of work done to get some of the period details right, but Mumbai Saga could have been so much more if the imbalance between style and substance wasn’t so skewed towards the former.

Having watched every single one of Sanjay Gupta’s directorial ventures thus far – from Aatish and Hameshaa, to Dus Kahaniyaan and Jazbaa, I personally feel his most accomplished work to date remains Kaante, even with all its offshore inspiration and eventual fatigue. Its extreme green hues worked well with its overall mood and genre, and the dialogues of that film were truly fresh and sharp for its time. His last film Kaabil (2017), despite being another ‘inspired’ story, still managed to pack in the thrills for audiences of a certain persuasion.

If only the director had chosen to up his game further (and trusted today’s audience a little more) instead of turning back to a formula that has worked for him in the past, Mumbai Saga could have been a film worth returning to theatres for; all safety precautions considered.

Mumbai Saga is playing in theatres across India.

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