The first question I have for Krishna DK, Raj Nidimoru and Anupam Mittal after watching "99 (2009)" is: "Why did you starve us for 6 long years since your last epic "Flavors (2003)"?".
Like their previous work, "99" is pure brilliance with a tight plot, jokes that work and pop-culture references that make you go "A-ha!". In other words, a MUST WATCH. The packed house at PVR on a weekday late-night show is testimony to that.
Kunal Khemu is an under-rated actor in the mould of Abhay Deol. Luckily, the latter has found his groove with the last couple of releases. Kunal is still stuck at 99 (pun intended), despite excellent nuanced performances in some excellent but forgotten films like "SuperStar (2008)". He has an easy charm and superb comic timing. At the same time, his vulnerable eyes poke through your heart during the tragic scenes. I really hope he breaks the jinx of successful child actors (like Urmila Matondkar, probably the only success so far).
This movie also enjoys the acting talent of powerhouses like Boman Irani (who started in similar Indy films like "Let's Talk (2002)" but now needs no introduction), Mahesh Manjrekar, Amit Mistry (a bonafide superstar at Bombay's Prithvi Theatres) and Cyrus Broacha. All these guys have significant theatre experience and it shows in their comic timing, body language and diction. In smaller roles, the bhojpuri actor and the sidekick provide many laughs with their natural presence. Among the ladies, Soha and Simone are important to the plot but don't have any spectacular scenes where they get to shine.
So here is my second question to Krishna DK, Raj Nidimoru and Anupam Mittal: "Why didn't you repeat the ravishing and very funny Pooja Kumar from Flavors, in the role of (who else?) Pooja?". She'd be so purrrfect-- and a treat to watch.
The production is very well designed. The movie is set in 99-2000 and it almost feels as if that is when it was shot. Be it the film hoardings across the city (imagine "Kaho Na Pyar Hai (2000)" blocking the skyline, for chrissakes!), the mobile phone models they use, the cars they drive or their amazement at the advent of "cyber cafes"--- this could well be one of India's first period films (NOT about the Freedom Struggle)! If anything, that's one award it deserves for sure. The background score is also well used and adds to the tension/fun of the chase.
As for the story itself, this is a chase/heist movie in the genre of what Guy Ritchie does. The two losers are on the run from everyone, with their IOUs adding up faster than Sachin's centuries. Their misfortunes and bravado makes for some very comic situations, without resorting to any toilet humor (well, almost) or Priyadarshan style confusion-climax. The audience kept laughing and clapping all through. Especially loved were the Bombay versus Delhi references (the cities are known for their cultural rivalry and chauvinism).
1. Juxtaposing the Bambaiyya abuse "Ticha Maaiiii Laa...." with the very Delhi "Teri Pennnn Di..." at 2 ends of a phone call
2. "Coffee? Is waqt? Yeh Delhi hai, tumhari Bambai nahi. Yahaan raat raat ko hi hoti hai"
3. "Dilli mein sab ladkiyon ke sirf 2 naam hote hain-- Pooja ya Neha" (that's SO true!)
The movie is peppered with cricket metaphors, delivered in Cyrus's inimitable style. Cricket forms an important part of the plot and it is made by true lovers of the game.
99 is two hours of pure fun. Yes, it reminds you of many a Hollywood films, but not as a copy. It faithfully follows the caper genre. This slight difference sets it apart from the 99% junk that Bollywood ends up celebrating annually, with the likes of Anees Bazmee, Priyadarshan, David Dhawan and Hansal Mehta.
So here's my third question for Krishna DK, Raj Nidimoru and Anupam Mittal: "Agli picture kab bana rahe ho?"
Some hilarious "prophecies that came true" made by the characters in the year 2000:
1. "Na daud sakte hain, na maar sakte hain. 50 0vers khelne ki aukaat nahi hai. 20 overs ka match rakho, usmein world champions ban jayenge!"
2. "Main kehta hoon yeh cyber cafe, email, internet sab 2 din ke shauq hain. Zyada din nahi chalenge"
3. "I want to open a coffee shop". "You mean like a tea stall?"
4. "Ek din hum Amitji ko bhi le ayenge, Bhojpuri filmon mein..."