Two ends of the Mumbai social spectrum find their lives intersecting in “Taxi No. 9211,” a generally gripping drama about an ornery cab driver and a ruthless yuppie. Slickly mounted, high-concept fourth feature from helmer Milan Luthria (POW drama “Deewaar”) is refreshingly different from run-of-the-mill Bollywood, despite occasionally taking a turn into the unbelievable, and develops its opening premise in interesting ways. Strong perfs by leads Nana Patekar and (surprisingly) John Abraham rev up the human drama, making this of interest to Bollywood-friendly events. B.O. for the Feb. 24 release has been OK for a specialty item.
Short-fused, working stiff Raghu (Patekar) can’t hold down a regular job, and works as a cabbie without his wife, Sunita (Sonali Kulkarni) knowing. Raghu desperately needs 30,000 rupees ($700) to pay off a debt in the next 24 hours, and sees his chance when rich playboy Jai (Abraham) hails his cab.
Jai is on his way to court to contest his late father’s will, in which he’s been cut off without a rupee. When Raghu’s cab crashes, Jai mislays the key to the safe-deposit box in which his father’s original will (favoring him) is stored. Raghu finds the key, realizes its worth, but refuses to hand it over to Jai, whom he sees as an arrogant rich kid. A potentially deadly game of cat-and-mouse develops between the two.
After a leisurely set-up, with an off-screen narrator (Sanjay Dutt) intro’ing both men’s backgrounds, the personal drama really develops in the third reel as the two meet in Raghu’s rickety vehicle, with Jai urging him to drive faster and faster to meet the court date. But when the hearing is postponed for 24 hours, Rajat Aroraa’s script develops in unexpected ways, as both men’s lives quickly start to melt down. Ultimately, the pic turns into a drama of two men, both deeply flawed by pride, who eventually find some kind of common ground.
Veteran character actor Patekar is tops as the misanthropic, rather pitiful cabbie, but the revelation is the perf of male pin-up Abraham, till now in steamy dramas which largely called for him to take his shirt off. Two very different thesps develop real chemistry, boosted by Kulkarni’s nicely gauged performance as Raghu’s young wife.
Film has only one real musical number — a sex-drenched sequence, early on, of Jai carousing in a night club — that could easily be cut.
After all the drama, the ending is light, with a celeb cameo by actress Priyanka Chopra and (following a recent trend) a musicvid-style end-title sequence with Patekar, Abraham and Sameera Reddy that’s huge fun.