Cast: Kunal Khemu, Soha Ali Khan, Cyrus Broacha, Boman Irani, Mahesh Manjrekar, Vinod Khanna, Amit Mistry, Simone Singh
Director: Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK
Rating: ** & 1/2
Last year, during the first season of IPL, Jannat barreled into the theatres on the strength of a hummable score, a cricket theme and Emran Hashmi’s bad boy appeal to walk away with a sizeable chunk of box office heaven. That’s what 99 is hoping for too as it breaks away from the film producers stronghold to spring a multiplex release.
It’s the story of two small time techie crooks, Sachin, obviously modelled on Sachin Tendulkar who for a long time sported jersey number 99 (Kunal Khemu), and Zaramud, the equivalent of Rahul The Wall Dravid (Cyrus Broacha). The duo is on the run from cops after their duplicate SIM card racket is busted. Their getaway attempt is blotched up when Zaramud bangs their ‘borrowed’ Merc into a lamppost.
The Merc’s owner, local bookie AGM (Mahesh Manjrekar), is not amused to be left jangling his car keys. He’s somewhat appeased when the desi Laurel and Hardy compile an excel sheet of his creditors, complete with all the zeroes they owe him. He even flies them to Delhi to pick up a pending ‘loan’ from one Rahul (Boman Irani) who hoping to hit the jackpot has gambled away his savings on a losing Indian side.
The roller coaster ride sucks the trio deeper into the world of crime, with its rogue gallery and run-for-your-life encounters. It’s a sticky wicket as they run into a bunch of luggage filching slum kids, a recovery agent Kuber (Amit Mistry) and his Man Mountain Dimple, a small time peddler in stolen goods, a match-fixing magnate JC (Vinod Khanna) and more goons.
In a serio-comic bid for survival, fours are struck, sixes hooked, catches dropped and stumpings missed. Eventually, the only way out is to place a ‘safe’ bet on the South Africa goras when they take on the Indian XI. The match is supposedly fixed, yet they still end up on the losing side. And that’s the end of their story... or is it?
The film takes it time to take off and wrap up. It picks up in the second half but then gets sluggish again towards the
climax. The story is familiar but the breezy story-telling sets it apart. So does the ensemble cast.
Mahesh Manjrekar impresses in a made-to-order role. Vinod Khanna’s JC has a certain world weary attractiveness. Cyrus Brocha despite all the kilos he lugs around is engaging. He makes a better match with Kunal Khemu than an insipid Soha Ali Khan.
Boman Irani livens up the proceedings with his doleful expressions and deadpan humour... and finds a bitter half in Simone Singh. The find of the film however is Amit Mistry. As Kuber, a man with connections and network interruptions, he’s a riot in a role tinged with gray.
Production values reflect cost cutting. The editing is erratic, songs feet tapping but unlikely to stay in the mind and some smart lines are lost in script tangles.
Engineers-turned-directors, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, have already done the festival rounds with their first film, Flavors.With 99 they are hoping to break into mainstream Bollywood with that elusive century. You leave the theatre feeling that 99 is one run short from becoming an entertaining caper. It’s not bad, we’ve seen worse. But it’s not all that good either, we’ve seen better.
Reviewer Shashi Baliga will be back next week