Only Mumbai's distinctly haphazard pace, its order-in-chaos, could beget maniacs like the kind that spar with each other in Taxi No 9 2 11. But it's not just sparring they indulge in, no. It's unmitigatedly vicious, property-damaging, physical brawling.
P3 hunk and spoilt rich-kid Jai Mittal (John Abraham) launches an ugly war against the masochistically vindictive taxi-driver Raghu Shastri (Nana Patekar). That is all the movie is about. But it is loaded with shaana Mumbaikar street-talk and spicy come-backs a la Munnabhai MBBS. Throw in a few huge swanky cars smashing into each other, a little "hunting the dead-millionaire's will" drama and a bunch of groovy dance-numbers, and Taxi No 9 2 11, meter up or down, is full paisa vasool.
The story begins with the safety of Sanjay Dada's voice-over introducing the two 'chapters' that the movie is about. Raghu Shastri, an almost psychopathic loon, drives a taxi by day and pretends to be a respectable LIC policy seller to his wife (Sonali Kulkarni) and son by night. Mumbai's roads give him sufficient opportunity to show-off his colorful vocab.
It is either the role itself or John Abraham's urbane demeanor that forces a kind of behooving restraint on Nana's actions. He is a lunatic, yes, but there is vulnerability, a self-aware disappointment in oneself that makes his character so realistic. He is a screwball who doesn't like being one, who is trying to be someone better, and trying to justify it to himself in the meanwhile. Not many other roles of Nana are this understated. But let's not read profundity into a masala movie.
Jai meanwhile is the prodigal son on the verge of inheriting millions from his dead father, but there is a will he has to produce in court to get his hands on the pile. His paths cross with Raghu's when he pops into his taxi to get to court for the pivotal hearing. In his anxiety, he goads Raghu into an accident and slips away in the resulting road-squabble.
Raghu goes to jail, but Jai's keys to the locker that holds the will, go with him too. What follows is a little aggressive-cat-and-pugnacious-mouse game with Jai demanding that Raghu give the will back and Raghu infuriating him by taunting. When Raghu escapes from jail and tails Jai's girlfriend, it's full-scale war.
Both war-hawks never give up and just come back with bigger and better lollops. Nana, like we said, is convincing in the role, but John outdoes himself too. The attitude he has always oozed, now runneth over, and it's not hard to be converted to a hardcore fan as you watch him do a perfect impression of a classy stud who is really a goon at heart.
The ending is improbable and mawkish, as Jai and Raghu are given a second chance to mend their ways again. That is fine too, but so complete (read overdone) is John's transformation and regret, that he seems all set for canonization to sainthood. Nana on the other hand is lucky with his ending – it's more believable like the rest of his role.
The ladies have a truly 'supporting' role. They play a gold-digging girlfriend (Sameera Reddy) and an anguished wife (Sonali Kulkarni), and generally help bring out the men's characters better. They are pawns, even if good ones.
Taxi No 9 2 11 is a pretty unique movie, considering that it attempts an off-beat story and pulls it off without a hitch – a phenomenon occurring more frequently nowadays, but not yet often enough. With this flick, John makes a crossover as he carries the movie on his shoulders, while Nana mellows into an actor who brings finer more nuances to his role than he ever has. Not a bad movie to enjoy this weekend.