Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

Deadly AND Moral. Meet the New Don: Imran Khan.

The normally unflappable Imran Khan is irked.

"People can be such idiots", he exclaims.

Quite apart from the fact that the title of his latest film ("Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara - OUATIM2) is a mouthful and its producers are fretting over whether there will be enough screens available come August 15 (as Shah Rukh Khan's insipid "Chennai Express" clatters its way through the hard-earned rupees of the ignorant masses), some activists are claiming that films such as the slick and stylish OUATIM2 are "glorifying" the dark and sinister world of Mumbai's myriad violent gangs.

"Bollywood and films in general are easy targets for anyone looking for a bit of publicity", Khan tells The UKAsian.

"It's really unfortunate that just around the time of the film's release, people will stand up with all manner of moral objections to certain aspects of a movie.

Often the producers or the actors will then have to go around shaking the hands of various different people, make changes to the title or make cuts to a film or make some sort of other concession so that no one is offended."

The flak against glorifying violence is arguably a reaction to the sheer popularity of the gangster genre in recent years; from the exceptional 'Gangs of Wasseypur' through the average "D-Day" to the mediocre "Shootout at Wadala", audiences have lapped up gangster flicks.

That despite the fact that gang influence and the violence they instigate has become something of a scourge of Mumbai.

A day after my chat with Imran, news emerges that Pakistan had harboured - at some point in the recent past - Dawood Ibrahim, the Mumbai underworld's most up-standing and violent export and the inspiration for OUATIM2's lead character Shoaib Khan (Akshay Kumar).

That will doubtless not go down well with those people who will not take lightly a lionized version of someone who is essentially a mass murderer, among other things.

Imran though, is convinced that targeting the entertainment industry is just an easy option.

"There is absolutely no evidence connecting what is depicted in film or TV to what occurs in the real world. There is no connection.

Film, much like other art forms, is a reflection of society.

People just need scapegoats. Nobody actually looks at the root causes of what's happening. The powers that be never ask the relevant questions, like what was it that allowed gangs to proliferate in Mumbai and what is it that that allows them to continue?"

Imran, much like his uncle Aamir Khan, is known for his political and social activism and is a supporter of myriad causes, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, female empowerment and, oddly enough, the drinking age.

In 2011, he was part of a group petitioning the Maharashtra government against a proposed law raising the legal drinking age to 25, eloquently declaring at the time: "It's unfair to expect that one has to wait till 25 to exercise his freedom of choice regarding one's lifestyle. Young India is not as irresponsible as the older establishment assumes it to be."

"I think if you're fortunate enough to be in a position where people can be heard then you should take the time to speak out about the things that you personally believe in.

All of us have views on things but not all of us have the opportunity to air those views and hopefully make a difference.

And to make our society and our country a better place to live."

And it is a rather unique place that the 30-year-old star, once described as the "Best Young Actor" of his generation, enjoys.

Whilst he hasn't been as prolific as, say, Ranbir Kapoor - the other bona fide young "star" in Bollywood at the moment - Imran has built up an enviably varied body of work.

His turn as Aslam, Shoaib Khan's understudy in OUATIM2 and the "spiritual successor" to the character Sultan Mirza (in turn reportedly modelled on infamous real-life gold smuggler Haji Mastan) in the first part of the franchise, is the latest incarnation for the versatile actor.

"I was drawn to the character because in spite of the fact that he is this quite violent man, he has a strong character and a very strong moral code that he lives by.

Akshay's character Shoaib Khan is a very dark role so Milan (director Milan Luthria), Rajat (writer Rajat Arora) and I wanted to create a counterpoint to him. I think the dynamic between the two men and their love for the same woman is at the heart of the film", Imran says.

The lady at the centre of this particular love triangle is Sonakshi Sinha, the latest heroine to be romanced by the doe-eyed Imran Khan, who has, of course, pranced his way through some of the hottest young starlets on-screen, from Genelia D'Souza and Sonam Kapoor to Anushka Sharma and Kareena Kapoor.

Perhaps Sonakshi can infuse some of her recent 100-crore magic into Imran's life; despite winning over critics with his performances, his last two outings have been box office disappointments.

The odds aren't great: having already been postponed by a week owing the rather annoying Mr Shah Rukh Khan, the film, which reportedly cost three times the budget of the 2010 original, faces an uphill task to build a head of steam.

But there's plenty going for the film.

In the first instance, there aren't many genres that make for more compelling cinema than a good old-fashioned gangster flick set in the heady 1980's.

What's more, it's about time that traditional gangsters like Ajay Devgan and even Akshay Kumar paved the way for an altogether more rakish goon, complete with up-turned collar and winsome moustache.

That rattling noise might not, after all, be a train approaching but millions of knees going weak.

- Poonam Joshi

"Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai Dobara" is in cinemas August 15.



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