Taxi No 9211

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 03, 2006 01:48 hrs

Starring Nana Patekar, John Abraham, Sonali Kulkarni, Sameera Reddy
Directed by Milan Luthra
Rating: ** œ

It looks like cinema is willing to take that 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 stratas of life. Nana Patekar is the inebriated, sullen deceitful taxi driver who has told his wife (Sonali Kulkarni) and son (Ashwin Chitale, the child prodigy from the Marathi film Shwaas) that he's a government officer.

Broken rule: never lie about your job when you're 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 epitomize the spirit of frictional camaraderie the best aspect of Taxi No 9211 is its amazing eye for locational detail. Not a moment in the terse 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 Milan Luthria dares to go against the grain. The profile and contour of the narration are cosmopolitan . And yet at heart, the movie 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-realization is specially 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 9211 as a road caper would be a creative crime. This is a film that goes far beyond the thrills provided on screen. Of those (the thrills) there's no dearth . 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 which underline this 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 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 performance. Nana is a raging volcano of middleclass angst. He's 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 realization that his girlfriend(Sameera Reddy) is at the end of the day, just a gold-digger with a prodding mom to boost her materaliasm, John feels for his character.

And we feel for the characters and environment that the director constructs out of the raw material that we secrete in our hearts. Living in a concrete jungle is a constant struggle. Milan Luthria satirizes the struggle of survival and finally makes the serio-comic act of survival a statement on urban morality.