ItÂ´s testosterone overload as two unpleasant, morally reprehensible individuals lock horns in a tale of decline and redemption set over 24 hours in Mumbai. TheyÂ´re characters from opposite sides of the track whose destinies intersect the moment Mittal (John Abraham) - the hedonistic son of a multi-millionaire hops into a taxi driven by Shastri (Nana Patekar) - a chap whose social interactions habitually degenerate into a series of well aimed slaps. These two objectionable fellows literally drive each other to the point of no return and elicit very little sympathy from the viewer in the process. Thatâ€™s what director Milan Luthriaâ€™s Taxi No 9211 is all about. ItÂ´s a credit to the filmmakers that in its resolution, the film succeeds in turning antipathy into concern without being overly preachy. ItÂ´s also a credit to Patekar who imbues the crusty, unlovable Shastri with enough depth to sustain a credible redemption.
Although the cinematography is slick and gives Mumbai a palpable energy, the story takes too long to kick in. A very long voiceover at the beginning, along with a flashback and club scene, drags it down. A lot of the explanation seems superfluous, especially as the narrator (Sanjay Dutt) is not a character involved in the drama but an extraneous voice - one we donÂ´t hear from in the end. The club number, which is intended to pump up the energy, has the reverse effect; it detracts from the delivery of important information and trivializes MittalÂ´s character. Shorter Bollywood movies - those that run for two hours or less, do not have the luxury of time to indulge in songs if these do not shed considerable light on the characters. All the club song communicates in this case, is that Mittal likes to party and is popular with women. This isnÂ´t enough information to justify the inclusion of a full dance number even though it is hugely entertaining. AbrahamÂ´s character is sadly underwritten which presents problems later on. This is not a criticism of the actor who does well with what heÂ´s been given.
On a positive note, the scenes between Shastri and his long suffering wife Sunita (Sonali Kulkarni) are well executed and seem very real. The scene in bed, where his ardor is quickly quelled by her insistence on their financial problems, is a gem. In fact, the appearances of Sunita and the child are highpoints in the film. They are ShastriÂ´s saving grace and itÂ´s only in relation to them that we build a modicum of sympathy for the guy.
Because MittalÂ´s character lacks depth, itÂ´s hard to be convinced that his sense of urgency matters. The ticking Rolex flashes insistently but its import is only slight. Mittal is out to contest his fatherÂ´s will and needs to find the key to a security vault where overriding documents are stored. However, heÂ´s so self-centered and nasty that it doesnÂ´t seem to matter if he gets the money or not. A real sense of urgency could have increased the tension and momentum in the action sequences, but by the time these are enacted, the imperative of time is well and truly lost.
If the film had been a black comedy, rather than a drama, there wouldnÂ´t be the need to identify with MittalÂ´s plight but all the indicators suggest that itÂ´s a drama thatÂ´s being played out here. The comedy is mild and doesnÂ´t have the biting irony or sense of the surreal that one associates with black humor. During the action sequences Taxi No. 9211 veers into the realm of the murderous and macabre as Shastri and Mittal go blow for blow into a mutually destructive gridlock. And the worst of it is that this viewer didnÂ´t care! Needless to say, I found the action a bit tedious as a result.
A parallel can be drawn here with TyagiÂ´s adapted screenplay for Ek Ajnabee. There too I felt that the action did not link convincingly with character development; it was rather gratuitous and overblown. In Taxi. No. 9211 aggression goes well beyond rage and taints the characters to a point that makes ShastriÂ´s redemption in particular, seem a bit convenient. (If one reflects on his deeds.) However, it was good to get back to normality; good to have a decently executed song at that point - one that got me thinking about relationships and feelings albeit in a manipulative way.
Aazamale, Aazamale is not a show-stopping tune, but its melodramatic picturization helped make these two monsters almost human again. The constant between it, and the mind numbing action scenes was much appreciated.
I know that it doesnÂ´t greatly affect how one views a film, but I dislike the use of the "celebrity coda" at the end of many recent Bollywood films. In Ek Ajnabeeit was the appearance of Lara Dutta and Abhishek Bachchan; in this film it was Priyanka Chopra. Such interludes are often stylistically at odds with the story and are there to animate the audience but a good film shouldnÂ´t really need to pander to viewers. Celebrity appearances are best kept to small, meaningful roles like ShahrukhÂ´s in Saathiya.
Taxi No. 9211 elicits strong performances from its cast, has a vibrant backdrop and an interesting soundtrack (Vishal and Shekhar). It loses its grip pre and post interval but delivers in the end. A terrific performance from Nana Patekar ameliorates the bumps and wrong turns effectuated by both screenplay and direction.