‘Lootcase’ is a black comedy thriller. (photo courtesy of Disney+Hotstar)

MUMBAI — This is a film whose trailer I had watched twice before theatrical outings went for a pause. The small budgeted film has now found a release on Disney+Hotstar. Good for it.

Black comedy thrillers are quite rare (the decent or even better ones, we mean) and this one fits into the genre with comfortable ease. The twists and turns are ingenious and what I liked about the film is the consistency. Certain “No’s” were crystal-clear: the film steered clear of brutality, violence, sleaze and even expletives. Yes, we know it is not a web series that thrives on such things because of a lack of censors, but as we all know, quite a lot of filmmakers get by with amazing leeway within censor norms.

Here, even when the baddies get what they deserve, it is with a twinge of humor. One man gets bumped off because he asks a simpleton to “pass the magazine” (of a gun) that he has dropped and the latter innocently passes him an old periodical! A masterstroke in the dialogues is when Patil, a politician who is downright unscrupulous (Gajraj Rao), gives veiled threats to those who are against him and then, with a very innocent look, asks them, “Do you think I am threatening you? No, no, no! Not at all! That’s the problem with me, I am always misunderstood! I think I should remain silent!”

Ironies of fate are the pivots of such comedies, and these are found in droves in this story of a lower middle-class family living in a chawl. Nandan  (Kunal Khemu) works in a printing press and ekes out a simple lifestyle with his wife Lata (Rasika Dugal) and son Aayush (Aryan Prajapati). As always, Nandan and wife dream of simple things like a vacation in Shimla and maybe good things for the house, occasional outings and gifts for Aayush, and freedom from the paucity of money.

Things change overnight when Nandan stops to relieve himself in a secluded dump while returning home past midnight and stumbles upon a red suitcase packed with 2000 rupee bills. He brings the heavy “lootcase” home, rationalizes that it cannot possibly belong to someone needy and hides it in his neighbor’s room, as the latter is away and the keys are kept with Nandan. He then begins to spend the money on simple things like a fun day for his kid and an oven, even as he dreams of a fancy apartment, a car and so on.

Meanwhile, the slush money belongs to Patil, who owes it to Tripathi (only a voice in the film). There have been some political murders and scams in town, and a file of incriminating documents that must also reach Tripathi in time. Patil’s PA Subhash (Atul Todankar) places the file in the suitcase’s zipped compartment and it contains details of a lot of peoples’ sins and dirty deeds. Nandan never comes to know of it, but Patil of course wants the money, and even more importantly, he needs the file at any cost!

And Nandan continues to be in bliss, christening the bag as “Anand Petikar “ (Anand means happiness and “Peti” means a suitcase in Marathi!) and mentioning to his wife that a friend of that name who has contacts everywhere is facilitating all the sudden goodies. And thanks to close-circuit cameras being defunct near the dump where he had his lucky break, no one has a clue where the suitcase went.

The most interesting part of the film is how the police and politicians and their stooges just stop short of finding both the bag’s whereabouts and Nandan’s existence. How Nandan is found out and the chain of events that happen next are a great example of smart, logical scripting and a light tone is kept right up to the climax and post-climax. If the film has a sequel at all, the makers will have to start chronologically, but with a new idea, as the film is rounded up beautifully, a la “Hera Pheri,” whose sequel was never planned.

The middle-class setting, the hardworking commoners who are “have-nots” vis-à-vis those who roll in ill-gotten money, the ongoing trysts with humor, all remind us of vintage Priyadarshan classics like “Hera Pheri” and “Malamaal Weekly” apart from lesser-known but classic movies like “Sankat City” and others.

This film has no stars, but only star performances: Gajraj Rao towers yet again as the wily, seemingly harmless and angelic-looking politician.  His henchmen Graduate (Aakash Dabhade) and Rajan (Nilesh Diwekar) are superb, as is Vijay Raaz as the don who loves National Geographic and wants his men to subscribe to the science channel because he always compares human beings’ behavior to that of biological species like serpents and crocodiles!

Ranvir Shorey is the perfect corrupt cop, a man so utterly self-centered that he will be party to any deal that will enhance his finances. And as doing understated turns is difficult but leads to very accomplished performances, Kunal Khemu as Nandan and Rasika Dugal (the most brilliant casting here after Gajraj’s) are perfect as the drab, mildly-discontented but overall happy and loving couple. From the rest of the well-etched cast that does very well, a special note for Vijay Nikam, Nandan’s boss, Atul Todankar as Patil’s PA and Sachin Naik as the harangued rickshaw driver.

The peripherals like music sound forced, the background score average (Sameeruddin) but the film stands tall in three more fields apart from Rajesh Krishnan’s confident direction: the camerawork by Sanu John Varghese, Anand Subaya’s editing and Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval’s sets.

Yet another promising new director comes in. After a good start in the short film “TVF Tripling,” we expect good things from him now.

Rating: ****

Produced by: Fox Star Studios & Soda Films

Directed by: Rajesh Krishnan

Written by: Rajesh Krishnan & Kapil Sawant

Music: Rohan-Vinayak & Amar Mangrulkar

Starring: Kunal Khemu, Rasika Duggal, Gajraj Rao, Ranvir Shorey, Aakash Dabhade, Vijay Raaz, Manuj Sharma, Nilesh Diwekar, Pritam Jaiswal, Aryan Prajapati, Sada Yadav & others

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