It’s an ancient set-up: a ‘common man’ chancing upon a fortune after an illicit deal has gone south. This almost folklore-ish event, however, feels particularly novel in Rajesh Krishnan’s Lootcase because of the film’s cultural specificity. It’s nearly two in the morning when Nandan Kumar (Kunal Kemmu) is returning from his night shift at a newspaper printing press, (presumably) taking the last train home. As he lights up a cigarette during his long walk between the train station and home, which appears to be his daily ‘ritual’, he’s immediately believable as the ‘common man’ protagonist. Nature calls, and Nandan rushes into a typically central suburban gully, one that bustles with people and vehicles during the day and is equally secluded at night. Done with his business, when Nandan tries to get on with his unremarkable life... he accidentally topples over a bright-red suitcase. Is this a bomb? Is this a trap? What’s a posh-looking bag doing in a mandi like this? There’s no lock on it.
It’s not the first time we’re witnessing a scene like this, but in Lootcase it works because of how it plays out like an anecdote from a friend. It might seem silly and far-fetched, but you’re hooked.
This whole genre is as watchable as it is, not because of how it makes us ruminate about philosophical things. But because we imagine ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes. What would I do? Would I tell my family about it? How would I duck questions about my sudden-improved lifestyle from nosy neighbours? If you’re asking yourself these questions ten minutes into the film, you know they’ve got you by the collar. But like we’ve seen in the case of Kaalakandi (or even Delhi Belly in my case and three other people), even an ‘edgy’ cast and colourful dialogue can often translate into an underwhelming film. Lootcase is better. The entire ensemble of actors, even while essaying archetypes, are served with delicious dialogue (by Kapil Sawant). And the cumulative talents of the cast and their splendid timing uplifts what could have easily been a flat, unfunny caper.
A special mention for co-writer Sawant, who adds wonderful sitcom-like instances to his sparkling dialogue. Even the most ordinary characters, like a police informer called Faizu (Manuj Sharma) are given their moment in the sun. When a cop (Ranvir Shorey) offers him a drink for making a breakthrough, Faizu instinctively launches into an over-rehearsed response of ‘arre sahab, aap bada aadmi hai, main chhota aadmi hai...‘. Shorey’s character blankly stares at him, waiting for him to finish, and then merely repeats his offer. After which, Faizu instantly drops the facade and fetches the bottle and two glasses. Tiny details like a shutdown bookstore (a murder crime-scene replete with corpse outlines) serving as the cop’s ‘office’, feel like the work of wild inspiration.
There’s a running gag about a mob boss (Vijay Raaz) using National Geographic metaphors to draw parallels between the jungle and his world of crime, even insisting that his often-confused henchmen (Aakash Dabhade and Nilesh Divekar) subscribe to the channel. You expect it to become repetitive, but it is to the credit of Hindi cinema’s greatest straight-faced actor (as of today), Raaz, that even a well-timed pause draws out a laugh. Vijay Nikam, as the owner of the printing press where Nandan works, shines in two scenes he appears in. A smooth bully of a boss during working hours, he transforms into a pile of tears (with Daddy issues) after two pegs. Then there’s the faultless Gajraj Rao, a passive-aggressive MLA, who relishes coercing others into doing things for him, by subtly demonstrating his power over them. It’s the kind of role that Rao has played to the point of fatigue in the recent past. But the dialogue coupled with Rao’s self-aware hammy performance, make it seem like his best since Badhaai Ho.
In a frothy, assembly-line of a script, where one domino tips the other, it’s remarkable that both Rasika Dugal and Kunal Kemmu pull off the role of an unassuming couple, bathing in their new-found riches, with such élan. The makers probably missed a trick with Dugal’s character, Lata, who while refreshing in her part, is ultimately caged in the mould of a ‘nagging wife’, instead of becoming Nandan’s ally. Kemmu’s capabilities as an actor have never been in question, but what is surprising in Lootcase is the physical comedy he manages. The effortless rejoinders at the end of conversations that feel nearly unscripted, the way he hugs a suitcase and talks to it, or even how he sprinkles some alcohol over the suitcase before the first sip—it’s equal parts silly and warm. Ensuring that even while we’re laughing at him, we never stop rooting for him. It’s in throwaway moments like where he starts talking to an automated woman’s voice over the phone that we see his understated brilliance.
Lootcase is reminiscent of Raj & DK’s early films (99, Shor In the City), and it’s fitting that the film hands Kemmu his first meaty role since 2013′s Go Goa Gone (also by Raj & DK). While it might not be fiendishly clever to mimic the director-duo’s satires, Lootcase deserves all the props for reclaiming ‘mindless and silly’ comedies, something that was lost to the Akshay Kumars, Sajid-Farhads and the Anees Bazmees of the business. If the intention was only to deliver on ‘fun’, then the makers should consider themselves successful.