By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Film: "Taxi No 9211"; Cast: Nana Patekar, John Abraham, Sonali Kulkarni, Sameera Reddy; Director: Milan Luthria; Rating: ** 1/2
It looks like Bollywood is willing to take a leap forward without the fear of a fall. "Taxi No 9211" is a fearless fable of the feel before the fall.
The "heroes" - if one may call them that - are two losers from two totally different strata of life. Nana Patekar is the inebriated, sullen deceitful taxi driver who tells his wife (Sonali Kulkarni) and son (Ashwin Chitale, the child prodigy from the Marathi film "Shwaas") that he is a government officer.
Broken rule: never lie about your job when you are on the road all the time.
John Abraham is the spoilt rich heir who spends his time drinking, fornicating and making out with hedonism.
Broken rule: don't tempt nemesis into catching up.
As luck and scriptwriter Rajat Aroraa would have it, the two unlikely "heroes" end up lending a shoulder to one another.
Besides the striking lead pair who epitomise the spirit of frictional camaraderie, the best aspect of "Taxi No 9211" is its amazing eye for locational detail. Not a moment in the brief and crisply edited (Aarif Shaikh) narrative is confined to a studio.
The camera explores the non-glamorous side of Mumbai with penetrating panache.
The crowded streets, the dingy chawls and the high-rise apartments mingle in a bustle of audio-visual lucidity. But there's no anxiety to bring Mumbai alive. It just happens to come to life without trying.
Patekar and Abraham do the rest. Their interactions and conflicts are cleverly written. We never feel the weight of their combined charisma as it collides and creates the kind of masculine sparks that are rare to mainstream Hindi films.
Director Luthria dares to go against the grain. The profile and contour of the narration are cosmopolitan. And yet at heart, "Taxi No 9211" is a purely homespun morality tale about people who choose not to take responsibility for their actions.
Many of the episodes work beyond the spaces that are created so cleverly on screen. John's self-realisation is especially well mapped in the plot. We never know when it creeps up on us and how the grim tone about the compromises that mar the smooth flow of existence, colour the frothy mood of the initial sequences.
To slot "Taxi No 9211" as a road caper would be a creative crime. This is a film that goes far beyond the thrills provided on screen. Of course, there's no dearth to the thrills as well. The traffic of stress on the crowded roads of Mumbai, excellently staged by stunt director Abbas Ali Moghul, coalesces effortlessly with the sensitive thought processes that underlines his gently forceful take on the theme of male bonding.
In the deepest recesses of this cannily crafted rage drama, there's a softly beating heart that tells us to love life.
Life in "Taxi No 9211" isn't beautiful. Not really. Luthria looks at Mumbai's underbelly with much affection and some regret. He makes optimum use of the spatial disharmony of the metropolis to carve out a story of one day in the life of two absolutely disparate individuals who change each other's outlook in unexpected ways.
The expertly packaged human drama is bolstered and held in place by the two central performances. Nana is a raging volcano of middleclass angst. He has done the clash-act repeatedly. But manages to make it look different once again.
John's take on the tycoon's evolution from self-interest to compassion is very sensitively graphed by the actor. You can see a lot of deliberation going into each moment that John creates on screen. Whether it's his interaction with the obdurate banker or his realisation that his girlfriend (Sameera Reddy) is at the end of the day, just a gold-digger with a prodding mom to boost her materialism, John feels for his character.
And we feel for the characters and environment that the director constructs.
Living in a concrete jungle is a constant struggle. Luthria satirises the struggle of survival and finally makes the seriocomic act of survival a statement on urban morality.
Bollywood.com Rating: 3