Taxi No. 9211 has attitude, style, witty dialogues, an energetic music track and a knock out central performance by Nana Patekar. But an inconsistent screenplay sees the film as time-pass at best.
Inspired by the Ben Affleck – Samuel L Jackson starrer Changing Lanes (2002) but unlike the recent Ek Ajnabees and Zindas changed sufficiently, the film looks at Raghav Shastri (Nana Patekar), an Insurance Salesman to the world, but a caustic, cabbie in reality, who needs thirty thousand rupees by the end of today to keep his taxi…And Jai Mittal (John Abraham), the equally acidic heir to a resourceful business family, who needs a bit more - Three hundred crores actually also by the end of the day. Jai needs to contest his father’s will in court. He gets into Raghu’s cab to get there. What was thought to be an ordinary cab ride turns into a day of hell for the two as they get involved in an accident that brings out the worst in each other.
There is enough to recommend the film - Director Milan Luthria’s third film and his most assured and controlled effort, yet. Luthria explores what he calls a hardboiled Mumbai where nobody has time for anything. Quoting him in a recent interview to Time Out Mumbai,
“Your city defines the pace you set. In a place like Poona you can’t go faster than the pace of the city, in Bombay you can’t go any slower.”
To Luthria, that is the essence of the film. The film shows that irrespective of class and personalities of people on either side of the divide, the common problem that Mumbaikars face is that everyone is same in the end. No one here stops to look inside to find answers but keep running on the treadmill all their lives till they fall off and die.
The tone is set right at the beginning with Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai like voice over introducing the characters thereby giving the film its attitude at the beginning itself. The film is largely humorous with drama blended in quite effectively. Some scenes that stick to the viewer’s mind include the Police Station Sequence, the exchange between Nana and Sonali at the station, Nana getting hold of the will at the Vault and Nana’s birthday sequence.
These days it is refreshing to see shooting on actual locales and the film has managed to shoot all over Mumbai tackling crowd situations, government permissions, and the logistics of shooting taxi and car chases across the length and the breath of Bombay – all in a single schedule of 45 days. The use of a lot of hand held camera tries to make the viewer they are part of the locales and this gives the film a different candid and yes, Bambaiya look.
As far as performances go, Nana Patekar carries the entire film on his shoulders. Without him there would be no film. True one has to keep in mind that Nana will always play a man with a loose fuse but admittedly no one plays the role better. Be it the scenes where he explodes or drops his barbs with a deadpan straight face or breaks down at his final family reunion, he is brilliant. Be it in the Police Station with him harping on his unjust treatment or pointing to the Rs 500 the hawaldar has taken as a bribe or telling his son who is fielding that he is to become Tendulkar, not Kaif – he is spot on with impeccable comic timing. As his foil John Abraham smartly underplays but at the same time is no actor and there is a difference between subtle underplaying and being wooden – unfortunately, he is wooden to the core. A stronger performer was needed to play off against Patekar and here is where the film falls as Nana literally acts the socks off everyone else in the film. Sonali Kulkarni as Nana’s wife is surprisingly efficient though Sameera Reddy in a half baked role is a big no-no.
On the flip side the sequence of John on the highway avoiding vehicles is tackily executed. On the script level, there is not sufficient justification for the two men to go hammer and tongs at each other and John’s sudden change of attitude too is a pat too convenient and not really convincing. The film drags at places in the second half and could have been trimmed and made tighter. There are also continuity gaffes. If the taxi was banged up in the accident how come it is in perfect shape as Nana chases Sameera Reddy? Also, Taxi No. 9211 looks like it has been planned, shot and styled simultaneously with RSE’s earlier offering, Bluff Master, thereby giving one who has seen the earlier film, a strong a sense of déjà vu.
One place where the film scores is its vibrant music track. While most of the film soundtrack is peppy and zingy (Metre Down and Bambai Nagaria), the song that really stands out is the more serious and well written Aazmale Aazmale where the two men come to terms with the reality of their lives.
All in all. worth a dekho…