ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI

(Delite and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

Once upon a time, our films were populated with heroes who had a mythical aura around them. They spewed dialogues that would trigger adrenaline rush and their romantic ways had a poetic push. That was the time when screenwriting had some literary merit and larger than life images were palatable. Low angles had not turned lewd and a cabaret was a must just after intermission.

Director Milan Luthria rewinds to the era with today's technical finesse and recreates most of the definitive features of the time when angry young men ruled the marquee, glamorous molls shone from their shadows and a Daga or Vardan would invariably be lurking round the corner. Taking inspiration from the life and times of Haji Mastan, the first Godfather of mafia, Milan has woven a mystifying balance between fact and fiction…between the larger than life imagery of a pot boiler and the gritty reality of life in the mean lanes of Dongri. If the past is so fetching, who wants the present!

Milan's detailing of the period is spot on as long cars with never-ending bonnets create the old world charm and the sepia-toned advertisements of Lipton and Hercules in the background hint at times when control was the buzz world in more ways than one. Government control on aspirational items gave rise to smuggling, which in turn spurred a gang war of control over Bombay.

Sultan brought the warring groups together with his mantra -- when you could make friends why make enemies. However, he falters in judging his protégé, Shoaib. This son of a police constable, (yes Dawood is the inspiration), is in a hurry to rise up, what ever it may take. He is introduced into Sultan's gang by a robust police officer (Randeep Hooda) who wants to bring Sultan down, not realising that he is feeding a serpent. With a bloated ego, Shoaib changes the course of the city leaving the repentant officer to tell the tale.

Mastan is not new for Bollywood script writers but the way writer Rajat Arora has painted the man, who ruled the waves before the D cyclone washed away ethics from the underworld, we find his tale vivid all over again. The rather straight script could have easily gone down the predictable way with blood and gore but Rajat has created the action and intrigue through words laced with attrition and ardour. Post Salim Javed, we have hardly heard such heavy duty dialogues, dialogues that you like to memorise, lines you can quote. Perked up by Pritam's tunes, Milan has created the retro look with competent actors in a constant tussle to steal the scenes. When you have Ajay Devgn, mounting a gangster is not a task. He has been in similar Company before and each time he has seen some meat in the script, some sincerity in the director, he has shown the appetite of a top-class performer.

As Sultan Mirza, the smuggler with a conscience, Ajay manages to stir your soul. Exuding intensity is his forte, but here his romantic interludes with Kangna Ranaut are equally captivating if not more. After a few glasses as Sultan turns elegiac in the company of Rehana, the leading actress of the times, the screen bursts with life. In fact, it gives the subject a vibrant soul, which gangster films lost over the years.

Emraan doesn't have the range of Ajay but he has a quality that he can make you hate the character he plays. Finally, Randeep has got a role to express his calibre but it is Kangna who gives this otherwise masculine subject a jagged tenderness. Playing Rehana, who is apparently a mix of Madhubala and her lookalike Sona that Mastan eventually married, she leaves her stamp in the limited screen time. Prachi is efficient but unlike Kangna you don't yearn for her when the action shifts to boys. This is what we call screen presence!

There are times, particularly in the second half, when drama takes a pause as dialogues begin to show diarrhoeic tendencies. The finale could have been more realistically executed but these are the only Kachche Dhaage in a taut and textured entertainer.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA – ECLIPSE

(Spice, Noida, and other theatres)

It is an example of how a saga goes soggy when it is stretched beyond its elasticity for commercial gains. The cross-species love story had little steam left for a sequel but to squeeze every penny out of the popularity of Stephanie Meyer's characters (The Saga is based on Meyer's series of books) among adolescent hearts, the franchise has been uploaded for the third time. And if the sources are to be believed, two more are in the offing!

What we get here is a wilting romantic bouquet, which is being watered by computer-generated action and garnished with some puerile tricks to last another day. Back to the meadows, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is ready to be bitten by her unusually well-behaved vampire friend Edward (Robert Pattinson) as she wants to be like him but Edward shows no hurry, no rush of hormones. It has a message for a generation ever ready to break free of knots but it is something that we hailed in the first two instalments as well. But director David Slade goes on hammering the same point all over again. Similarly, the customary stories of side characters show that the makers are looking for excuses to stretch the franchise.

Meanwhile, the shape-shifting Jacob (Taylor Lautner) still believes Bella loves him but the innocuous advances of shirtless Jacob have lost their surprise value. The sweet Kirsten gives the same indecisive look and Taylor relies on six packs which get broken quite easily in an attack by newly-born voracious vampires assembled by a vengeful Victoria, (Bryce Dallas Howard is wasted in a half-baked role) who wants to kill Bella. Robert is the best among the three but his white face and red lips, which were once a nagging novelty, have begun to look plain weird.