I’ve always enjoyed watching Kunal Khemu on screen. An actor who probably didn’t get his due in the crowded field of star kids and supermodels, he has still stuck on and finally is being seen more. His voice modulation is probably a drawback, but in sharp and genuinely witty comedies he appears to come into his own. Of course, he was a well-known child actor in the nineties, before taking a hiatus and coming back as a leading man in the Mohit Suri venture, ‘Kalyug’, which was a movie I really liked. But it’s his humorous turns in the underrated ‘99’ and ‘Go, Goa, Gone’ which endeared him the most to viewers. This Mumbai based caper is right up his alley.
And it really is quite a bit of fun. Khemu plays Nandan, an utterly middle-class aspirant of the good life, who works in a printing press and lives in a chawl with his wife, Lata (a feistily impressive Rasika Dugal) and son. One night, while returning from another late shift in his office, while stopping in a darkened area for a toilet break, he notices a covered-up suitcase and finds that it is filled with money. After a perfunctorily hilarious shout out to any anonymous claimant, he takes it for himself. But where will he hide it? The cramped quarters he shares with his family and his wife’s puritanical streak will not let him store it at his house. And, of course, there are shady and dangerous characters after the suitcase. Two warring gangsters and their cronies as well as a passively aggressive MLA gangster, Gajraj Rao in another brilliant addition to his repertoire, are all involved in the cock-up which led to the suitcase finding its way into Nandan’s hands. They employ a shady cop for hire (Ranvir Shorey) to help them find its whereabouts and retrieve it. Nandan, meanwhile, is finding it tough to figure out exactly how he can store and use the money he has fallen into without arousing suspicion from both outside and within his family. His sudden generosity of spirit when they go out or when he gives into long time demands from his family do not go unnoticed by his sharp wife either. But how long can he keep this suitcase, who he fondly christens ‘Anand Petekar’, without inviting ire from the original claimants and the authorities?
The setup has been done many times before. An unsuspecting and harried middle-class simpleton comes across swathes of cash and is left in a dilemma of both a moral and practical nature. But what makes it a winner here are the characters and the general wackiness of the situations. The chemistry between Khemu and Rasika Dugal is loaded with spice and Chinese food double-entendres. Kunal Khemu is a laugh riot in some of the scenes where he has to give ridiculous answers with a deadpan face. Sample one, where the goons ask him “kiska aadmi hai? Abdul? Omar?” to which he replies with disarming innocence, “nahi, Lata ka.” Vijay Raaz has another brilliant supporting turn as a don who loves the National Geographic channel and keeps referencing animal world metaphors for each situation to his clueless henchmen and then berates them for not taking the Natgeo subscription. Ranvir Shorey plays the part of the sinister police officer with a secret rendezvous spot of an old bookstore well enough for us to feel the chills when he comes on screen, while Gajraj Rao keeps getting better with every outing.
The Mumbai based tale reminded me in a lot of ways of the smart but underrated Abhay Deol film from 2007, ‘Ek Chalis Ki Last Local’, which also dealt with an unsuspecting everyman in Mumbai coming in touch with a fortune and being chased by wacky, Tarantino-esque characters. Despite the moral quandary of the situation, it was easy to root for a likeable lead and the same holds true here as well. If nothing else, at least for the sheer fun it provides, this is a great watch.