Film: '99'; Cast: Boman Irani, Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Brocha, Soha Ali Khan, Amit Mistry, Vinod Khanna; Director: Raj Nidimoru & Krishna DK; Rating: **
After almost two months of aridity at the theatres one is happy to straightaway take the plunge into the never-ending wonders of la-la land, also known as the silver screen.
'99' is not the film you'd have liked to see after such a long period of deprivation.
This is a sorted-out sly swipe at the cinema of Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone where violence is satirised into a quirky comic capricious crime caper colonised by characters who are losers by instinct, nonetheless endearing in their defeatism.
The film takes some time to settle down in its groove. The first half an hour is a zonked-out mess with the co-directors indulging in a smirky we-know-it-all game of camera cockiness which leaves us exasperated.
The characters, like the wacked-out crime-dud Mahesh Manjrekar and the two petty criminals - Kunal Khemu and Cyrus Brocha - begin to make sense once they move to Delhi. The two are sent to collect money from a perennial fiscal misadventurer played by the ever-dependable Boman Irani with an urbane anxiety that teeters on neurosis.
Boman's performance, in fact, overrules all the film's flaws of which there are many. His part as an incorrigible gambler and a walking-talking financial disaster is so well-etched and enacted that you wonder if the film is just a pretext for this hugely talented master of nuances.
That the film is assembled with a level of professionalism and a certain amount cleverness only helps.
Amit Mistry (have we seen him before?) as a wimpish money collector, also on the trail of poor Boman, is again a performer who imbues the goings-on with a sassy splendour that the material doesn't quite justify.
But then at least '99' with its swaggering commentary on match-fixing and middleclass over-reaching is an original piece of work, if not a classifiable work of art.
There is enough evidence here to suggest that the people behind the endeavour know what they are doing. They go about the business of creating a universe of crime and comedy without either glorifying or ridiculing the characters.
We are the way we are, and what could be done about it? That's the underlining text of this tangy, flavourful often funny but not fully developed plot.
As a famine-breaker it serves its purpose. We are made conscious of how far Indian cinema has come from the time when crime never paid.