OF MISPLACED MACHISMO AND MINDLESS MISOGYNY
In writer Rajat Aroraa and director Milan Luthria’s worldview women are commodities men use for distraction, gratification or merely as possessions. Even in the so-called women-oriented The Dirty Picture, Vidya Balan’s Silk proudly proclaims that she’s ‘entertainment’, employing bold dances and gestures to please a ravenous male audience. In Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, Ajay Devgn’s Sultan relentlessly pursues Rehana (Kangna Ranaut), although seeing where the sequel takes this stalking, his approach seems dignified in hindsight.
Incidentally, the opening credits of Once Upon Ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara (when a film doesn’t have substance numerologists need to fix it’s fortunes) thank Devgn and Emraan Hashmi 'who started this journey'. The heroines were always ornamental and didn't deserve any show of gratitude.
The city and a woman’s body as territories for asserting supremacy are interchangeable. So that Shoaib (well played by Hashmi in OUATIM, making you wonder what prompted the director to replace him with Akshay Kumar!) challenges Sultan’s supremacy over his ‘mehbooba’ Mumbai, while in the sequel, Aslam (Imran Khan), a young kid groomed by Shoaib and unquestioningly loyal to him, falls in love with Jasmine (Sonakshi Sinha), the same woman his boss has taken a fancy to.
Early in OUATIMD we’re given a sampling of Shoaib’s methods when he coerces a married woman to spend the night with him, specifying what she must wear and she almost readily complies too. Later he elaborates, “Pyaar naukrani jaisa hota hai. Aata hai, bell bajaata hai, kaam karke chala jaata hai.” Further, "Jo mauke ka faayda na uthaaye woh mard kaisa?" The boys sitting next to me burst into spontaneous applause––that’s a line they want in their armoury.
Yet Shoaib's old flame (Sonali Bendre) holds a torch for him and puts herself at risk to meet him when he visits Mumbai to eliminate a rival (Mahesh Manjrekar with a Prem Chopra fixation) and his protégée is more than willing to sacrifice his feelings to accommodate the boss’ desires. As for the object of their affections (?), dumb as any self-respecting heroine, she's always the last one to know what's going on in her life.
In the film's sole moment of truth as Shoaib and Aslam are being chased by the cops they turn around and shoot indiscriminately. The bullets miss the cop (a cardboard cutout unlike Randeep Hooda’s ACP Wilson in OUATIM) and hit a poster of Nargis in Mother India––mocking emblem both for the state of the nation and it's cinematic preoccupations.
Fittingly, this nth tribute to Dawood Ibrahim releases on Independence Day to remind us that this is what freedom really means. Freedom to get away with hastily written, thoughtless screenplays; freedom to pen jokes of the kind involving substitution of ‘intermediate’ with ‘intercourse’; freedom to paint mass murderers as stylish heroes; freedom to treat women with contempt (in a film produced by two women); freedom to project utterly incompetent actors without an iota of commitment to craft as superstars and to make another sequel to milk the franchise dry as the open ending suggests.
The King is dead; long live the Republic!