Mumbai Saga is the latest underworld drama to try to shake off the smell of the mothballs that inevitably clings to this kind of movie. But the only new idea in it is that the biggest gangster in town is a politician.

He is named Bhau, is played by Mahesh Manjrekar and closely resembles a certain nativist politician who propagated the Marathi cause. Bhau is the mentor of Amartya Rao (John Abraham), a vegetable seller who trades tomatoes for guns when the reigning don Gaitonde (Amole Gupte) threatens his younger brother Arjun.

With Bhau’s support, Amartya soon becomes the king of his garden patch. Retribution arrives mere seconds before the interval point in the form of the lean and mean police officer Vijay Savarkar (Emraan Hashmi).

Vijay has sworn to vanquish Amartya, but suffers from not quite knowing what his adversary looks like. When Amartya gives Vijay a taxi ride and Vijay is none the wiser, you know it’s time to bury for good the urban legend that the Mumbai Police is second only to Scotland Yard.

Emraan Hashmi in Mumbai Saga (2021). Courtesy White Feather Films/T-Series.

The 127-minute movie is routinely low on brain work but always bursting with bombast. Packed with Sanjay Gupta’s trademark flourishes – aphoristic dialogue, massive close-ups, shots of men walking chest out and in slow motion towards the camera, scenes lensed through a jaundice-yellow filter – Mumbai Saga works hard to live up to its title.

Baggily based on the real-life siblings Amar and Ashwin Naik, but mostly operating from the realm of fiction, the movie swaggers about to the tune of Amar Mohile’s operatic background score. The swaggerer-in-chief is John Abraham, attempting to look menacing and purposeful at all times but mostly coming off as haggard and overwhelmed at playing a young man who is on the up. Second on the list is Emraan Hashmi, the none-too-bright police officer who is a pawn in a bigger game.

The rest of the cast fare no better – Amole Gupte as the giggly gangster Gaitonde, Shaad Randhawa and Ronit Roy as Amartya’s loyal accomplices, Kajal Aggarwal as Amartya’s chirpy and supportive wife Seema, and Prateik Babbar as Amartya’s angry brother Arjun. Mahesh Manjrekar, in full-blown Bal Thackeray mould and sinister without trying to be, is by far the smoothest criminal in the club.

Mumbai Saga (2021).