Saturday, April 30, 2011

99 [Raj Nidimoru & Krishna DK]

The opening moments of 99 are among its worst: Amateurish framing, actors clearly struggling with sketchy material, clichéd unfunny jokes and glaring continuity errors (check out the constantly varying density of Boman Irani's goatee). The first half of the film also suffers from a grave degree of plot slackness, so much so you begin to wonder if its the sparseness of the juicy bits that makes them feel good. But then the strike rate of the comic situations and the jokes improves, the main characters grow more likable, and by the end, you are entertained enough to cheerfully excuse all the convolutions and contrivances of this Get Shorty influenced little caper.

All of 99's characters have shady corners to them: Sachin (Kunal Khemu) and Zaramud (Cyrus Broacha, incredibly fat or wearing very convincing padding) are Mumbai-based sim-card counterfeiters who in their quest to escape the law end up totaling an expensive car of the local bookie bhai (Mahesh Manjrekar, actually entertaining). Taken on as bonded labor by the bookie to pay their debts, they are given an assignment to collect on debts from a motley of Delhi-ites. Bumbling their way through Delhi's mores, they corner the main debtor Rahul (Boman), a compulsive gambler with widespread debt. The bulk of the narrative is about their attempts to recover the money from Rahul while he conjures various schemes to slip their (and a lot of other creditors') grasp. There is also an extended and entirely useless romantic angle thrown in with Soha Ali Khan as the (incredibly vella) floor manager of the fancy hotel the amateur loan collectors pile into.

The plot is set in late 1999 – early 2000 and an integral angle is the match-fixing scam with Hansie Cronje (kudos to the makers for setting up a lot of references to the period, be it posters and film references, or other winks like the immensely more primitive mobile network in India at the time). The humor in 99 is mostly situation based, thankfully steering away from cheap double-entendre or the “it must be funny because everyone is screaming” style. The script taps smartly into the cultural stereotypes of Mumbai and Delhi, and gives the characters a lot of nuance. It helps also that the actors plunge into their roles with relish; apart from the lead actors, who fit their roles snugly, relative newcomer Amit Mistry, who plays a Dilli-based operator for the bookie, is an absolute delight. Vinod Khanna as an alcohol-fueled big-time better is so bang-on I am convinced he was genuinely sozzled at the filming.

So like with Barah Aana, we have in 99 a schizophrenic experience where the film starts off on a limping note, but for the patient ones turns around in (over)due time and delivers a nice bit of entertainment

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