By Sahir Avik D’souza
Is it strange that Lootcase, which is the latest in the stream of meant-for-cinemas films going to streaming platforms, is the first time I’ve seen Kunal Kemmu in a lead role? After all, he’s been acting for upwards of twenty-five years! I looked up his filmography and saw why. Does anyone remember any of the following films he’s been the protagonist of: Superstar, Guddu Ki Gun (the poster featured him and the film’s cast gazing wonderingly at his crotch), Blood Money, Bhaag Johnny, 99, Dhol? The few films of his that continue to be talked about had him as part of an ensemble: two instalments of the Golmaal franchise, Go Goa Gone, Kalank.
Lootcase makes something of a case for him. He carries the film along quite well, nailing the role of the everyman he plays (‘aam aadmi ka naam bhi aam, kaam bhi aam,’ he exclaims). He fits his muscled frame remarkably easily into the checked shirts and sleeved vests of the lower-middle-class Nandan Kumar. And as Nandan careers around despairingly, I never once doubted Kemmu’s conviction in him.
Nandan Kumar lives in a chawl with his wife Lata (Rasika Dugal) and son Aayush (Aryan Prajapati). He is always pressed for money: his wife complains they haven’t been on the holiday to Shimla he promised her a decade ago. Then one night he finds a suitcase filled with 10 crores in cash. Naturally, the film wants us to believe, he drags it home and begins to treat it as an ATM (besides naming it ‘Anand Petekar’, which the subtitles delightfully translate as ‘Joy Bagman’; he also, very bizarrely, begins to have one-sided conversations with this suitcase).
Nandan’s situation never felt wretched enough for me to accept that he would do something so desperate and dangerous as picking up a suitcase (not even a briefcase or a handbag) stuffed with money. His wife is perennially forgiving: all he has to do is turn her on with some slightly odd dirty talk and she forgets their financial woes. And what exactly are those woes? They seem to be able to feed, clothe and educate their child; their house may not be big or comfortable, but it isn’t a hovel; they have an accommodating landlord and trusting neighbours, and Nandan has a regular job at a printing press. Their most pressing problem appears to be that they’re always running out of sugar!
But to enjoy the film I had to buy this set-up. And what helped me tide over it is that there is quite a bit to enjoy here, mainly the cast. Director Rajesh Krishnan puts Gajraj Rao, Vijay Raaz and Ranvir Shorey, three of Hindi cinema’s best character actors, into essentially cardboard roles (slimy politician, spiffy gangster, foul-mouthed detective) and lets them run with them. Rao, to nobody’s surprise, is a hoot, and Raaz effortlessly pulls off his character’s fondness for making National Geographic references in charged atmospheres. At one point, he instructs a henchman, ‘Abhi tera crocodile bunnay ka time aa gaya hai.’ Another time, he is deeply moved that his flunkeys have finally got themselves a NatGeo subscription.
The three of them and their numerous sidekicks are the ones after the suitcase. Each needs it for his own reason, of course, and they are at loggerheads with each other. Into this is thrown the unwitting Nandan, and we are in for a ‘comedy thriller’, as Wikipedia labels this film.
Lootcase is a minor entertainment and so it becomes a bit tedious when it stretches on for too long. For a film in which, if you think about it, not much of any real consequence happens, it’s tough to keep us interested for over two hours. After all, the filmmakers neglect to tell us exactly what this suitcase is, whom it is for or from, or the contents of a very important file within it. So there isn’t much plot to hold on to. The climactic shoot-out, set to an upbeat, jazzy score by Sameer Uddin, is well-done, but it’s a bit of a slog to get there.
What kept me watching was Rasika Dugal, who is a very underrated performer. It’s good to see her get the screen time she deserves and she makes Lata both funny and affectionate. The role itself (exasperated housewife) is as old as the hills, but Dugal enjoys it, although she seems a little out of place in the film’s one song and dance sequence. But then that sequence itself (whose chorus goes ‘phakta pavitra party’, if you please) is itself a trifle out of place in this film.
In all this, Rajesh Krishnan and his co-writer Kapil Sawant examine the common man’s essential problem: class. Nandan exclaims at one point that so much money could never belong to a poor man, that it’s only the wealthy who can ever dream of possessing such riches. And at the end of the film, after all he has been through, does Nandan emerge a winner? Not really, and this might be the film’s underlying point: class is so difficult to transcend that the only way someone like Nandan can hope to see better prospects is to randomly chance upon a suitcase of cash. What are the odds?
Watch Lootcase on Disney+ Hotstar.
This review was initially published as a part of the author’s official newsletter, ‘Movie!’. To receive weekly reviews of movies the author has enjoyed, subscribe to ‘Movie!’
Sahir Avik D’souza is a student and writer based in Mumbai. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @sahiravik