Taxi No. 9211

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 02/25/06 01:29:18

"Bad Ride, Great Cabbie!"
3 stars (Average)

Normally a criticism, such as the one that follows, would be somewhere in the mid-portion of a film review. Conscious of the fact however that few people go through the whole charade, sufficed only to read the stars(rating) and maybe(this is a stretch) the initial paragraph, this censure demands an upfront mention! Taxi No. 9211 is an above-average movie at best, deserving no more than an average rating, but for a daunting factor. Two words- NANA PATEKAR! Nana is quite simply the soul of this ride. Incidentally, he’s the cabbie in the movie as well. Take Nana out, and Taxi No. 9211 is nothing more than a misfired attempt at adapting Roger Michell’s 2002 existential drama-thriller 'Changing Lanes'.

Two lives collide and subsequently alter in Michell’s film, that of Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck. That movie dealt with two contrasting individuals superimposing their respective flaws while denigrating the other in a battle that brought out the worst in two individuals otherwise indisposed to do anything of the ilk. In Luthria’s adaptation though, the collision of the two lives is not as physical as is in the original. It’s more frictional, taking birth in the confines of a taxi(Collateral!)…only 4 inches of separation between the two individuals. So, Jai Mittal(John Affleck-Cruise Abraham) lands up as a passenger in Raghav Shastri’s(Nana Samuel-Foxx Patekar) Taxi No. 9211. One is a yuppie, disowned and denied 300 crores by his deceased father; the other is a frustrated everyman, in need of 30 thousand. Very aptly, a song in the movie says “Kisi ka chutta, kisi ki daulat”(One’s change is another’s fortune). Fate brings them together, and they change their respective fates forever!

In adapting the film for an Indian(mainly Mumbai-ite) audience, writer Rajat Arora adds a new dimension to the plot. The basic argument, as the title song also suggests, is the city and its inhabitants. Whom does Mumbai belong to? Does it belong to the Jai-types- living in high-rises, dancing at pubs, air-kissing at socials and driving drunkenly over pedestrians without an ounce of guilt? Or are Raghus the real children of this city- crushed in the mill of dull monotony, resigned to a life that is tired to have sex even, ones who are treated like second-class citizens in their own land! Sadly, the movie prepares us for this interesting premise but delivers nothing. Post-interval, the script merely tries to reach a conclusion. And a dissatisfying one at that!

How well the movie sets up only to disappoint! Jai looks down upon anyone from a taxi driver to a bank employee. His sense of morality is absent, bringing Raghu’s son into the equation to settle scores. He even sneaks away from an accident site to avoid getting into a problem! Raghu on the other hand, never sneaks away. He says it as it is. He reads what the meter reads. There are no deceptions with Raghu. Except when he walks 2 kms to his home, ensuring that his wife(Sonali Kulkarni) doesn’t learn of his taxi-driving job. To her, he is an LIC insurance agent. Raghu is incapable of keeping a job, he’s lost 23 in 15 years. His irritated behavior is a result of years of failure- failure to make a life he’d be proud of calling his own. He’s broke enough to not afford an affair, and sinks every night into his wife’s bosom less like a sexed-up husband and more like an infant clinging on to a natural sense of security! He buys lottery tickets, only to lose. For Raghu, the world is conspiring against him- everybody from the cop to the grocer to the lottery vendor! How the film goes from such a promising beginning to exaggerated action scenes at a highway, car-chases and sentimental finale is a mystery?

As was the case with Rohan Sippy’s Bluffmaster!, Taxi No. 9211 acknowledges Bollywood films in subtle ways. There’s a tribute to Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin, when John eggs Nana to drive faster as he keeps offering Rs 500 for every fractional increase in the speedo! The climax, when John’s car crashes into a svelte young thing, is homage to the traditional meaning of accident in Bollywood cinema. Remember, ‘Accident ho gaya’ from Coolie? With Bluffmaster!, Taxi No. 9211 and the rerun of the tele-series Buniyaad, the Sippy name is getting back into Bollywood. What’s more, Ramgopal Varma is remaking Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay!

John Abraham is clearly a potential star. His killer looks combined with fairly decent acting surely indicate a bright future. The fact that he holds his own against Nana Patekar is commendable. Sonali Kulkarni is the real surprise. She’s a good actress, but her work here is so naturally beautiful that you pine for more of her screen-time. Also, she’s looking very fine, almost an example of splendid nutrition! The same can’t be said of Sameera Reddy, whose thighs are thankfully not on display this time. She succeeds in irritating with her acting though, or the lack of it!

That brings us to Nana Patekar. Something’s happening here- Nana Patekar has been in transition mode for a couple of years now. Beginning with his quirky supporting turns in Bhoot and Darna Mana Hai, then to a restrained career-best performance in Ab Tak Chhappan, followed by a precise rendition of a villain in Apaharan to a no-holds barred pompous show in Bluffmaster! And now this! It seems like Nana Patekar has started to take himself less seriously, which is why acting’s coming naturally to him. He doesn’t overdo, he’s simply playing them as it is…without giving a damn. Other than Amitabh Bachchan, Nana’s one senior actor who’s threatening to steal the limelight from the young brigade, The marked difference- Nana looks like he’s enjoying his work, unlike Amitabh who looks overworked. If things continue this way, we’re yet to see the best of Nana.

The joy in watching Nana Patekar give an effortless performance in a very complex role is what makes Taxi No. 9211 worth its price and one whole star. Other than that, there’s little on offer in this ride.

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