The director duo started out with making short films. One of the most original filmmakers in Bollywood, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK went on to make a name for themselves in Bollywood very quietly. Their movies don’t have glamour quotient or shock value but their unusual content and quirky humor is unlike anything you see in Hindi cinema. With a strong supporting cast, the characters in their films have a unique sensibility which few writers come close to developing.
Although their recent outings (A Gentleman, Happy Ending) failed miserably at the box office, their first three films are cult classics. Their fearless approach to storytelling and risk-taking ability make them one of the most exciting prospects in Bollywood.
1. 99 (2009)
Smart comedies have always found it incredibly difficult to survive in Bollywood. 99 is an underrated film that joined the ranks of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Rocket Singh as movies that the mainstream Indian audience failed to welcome. Inspired in its treatment from movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, 99 is a completely fresh story set against the backdrop of India-South Africa cricket betting scandal in 1999. Raj and DK keep the humor ironic, suspenseful and outright shocking at times.
The directors never hold back from the gratuitous violence which is part of the shady dealings of betting and money recovery business. People are beaten up. Shot at random. Tied to a chair on top of a terrace for ‘effect.’ Robbed in broad daylight. It’s a messed up world and there’s hilarity in all the ridiculous-but-earnest attempts each player makes.
The heart of 99 lies in its characters. The down-on-their-luck protagonists Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Brocha and Boman Irani are endearing. Notice the crackling chemistry between the three in the scene where Boman Irani explains the “plan” to get information about the match fixing from Vinod Khanna. Or the scene when the three protagonists try to extort money from a Bhojpuri superstar.
Another scene where Boman predicts Sourav Ganguly’s dismissal to fool Kunal and Cyrus only to reveal later that it was a recorded match is executed with textbook precision. The beauty of their direction is in the fact that as an audience we miss simple clues while never feeling cheated.
Their sense of timing for dialogues is unmistakable. Every scene is unassuming and devoid of histrionics. Watch the scene where Boman explains his theory of luck to Mahesh Manjrekar playing AGM. When the explanation is done, there is that perfect pause before the AGM asks, “Who the hell are you?”
It is a remarkable feat in itself that towards the end of the film, we are cheering for a South African win along with the protagonist when the match is against our own country (India). Raj and DK keep the stakes high and let relatable characters, urban setting and light-hearted situations take us on this rollercoaster ride.
2. Shor In the City
Raj and DK decide to flex their muscles in the familiar territory of quirky illegal dealings in a metropolitan city. Not drastically different from 99, Raj and DK made a darker film with Shor In The City. The indifference to human life is evident. It’s a time where individuals get away with anything amidst the noise and glitz of the Ganesh festival. Compare the visual palate of both the films. The murkier tone of Shor In The City is apparent against the refulgent screen of 99.
Where 99 was about several minor subplots connected to the central storyline, Shor… is about 3 disparate narratives interspersing at times but largely uninvolved with each other.
Despite the difference in narratives, the danger to the characters in both is far more imminent. And yet Raj and DK never miss a beat to give you comic relief in tense moments. Watch the scene where the mercurial Mandook (played by a terrific Pitobash Tripathy) tries to convince his friends that the gun is unloaded by holding it against his own head. Another scene where Mandook takes revenge on the man who insulted him is terrifyingly relatable.
Yet another scene where Mandook and friends test a bomb culminates into utter chaos after a small kid gets involved. Raj and DK hold our attention with such crisp moments of confusion and suspense in a plot that doesn’t necessarily have enough meat.
On the flip side, there are moments of tenderness between the spunky Radhika Apte and earnest Tushar Kapoor like the one where she opens the wedding gifts only to realize that Tushar’s friends have taken all the money from the gift envelopes. Or the one where Radhika just stops short of telling Tushar the spoiler for the ‘The Alchemist.’
Raj and DK’s quirky ideas lend freshness to the film. How many of us can claim to know that kidnappings for an unpublished book manuscript take place in Mumbai? Or the fact that an aspiring cricketer can think of robbing a bank. The makers create situations where in characters desperate to change their future try unconventional methods to hilarious and scarring results.
3. Go Goa Gone
Raj and DK take their crazy ideas to a whole new level with Go Goa Gone. The plot isn’t original but the urban Indian context the story takes place in makes it insanely funny at times.
Two lazy IT professionals – one cheated by his girlfriend, other perpetually horny – are stereotypical Indian young men we find around us. Raj and DK know their pot-smoking characters inside out and portray their insecurities effectively. Their friendships, misogyny and bad luck are strangely appropriate in the zombie apocalypse which makes it highly entertaining.
Notice how all the three zombie women attack Hardik (Kunal Khemu) just because he’s been an asshole to women. In the same scene, Bunny claims his friends always find the ugliest zombie match for him. It’s these witty dialogues and urban comic touch that elevate the film from a regular zom-com.
There are several nods to popular zombie movies like when Luv (Vir Das) says they must pretend to be zombies to escape. Or the way Boris (Saif Ali Khan) shoots one zombie head with five bullets.
Recommended: Underrated Filmmakers: Top 3 Films of Shimit Amin
At the same time there are thoroughly original jokes like when Hardik assumes Boris is playing dumb charades in the midst of a Zombie attack. Or when Hardik makes his zombie girlfriend run behind him around trees with a love song playing in the background.
The greatest strength of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK is that they never take themselves too seriously. Their enjoyment of the process of making a movie is palpable while watching it. It is this nature that makes their experimental random humor work. Go Goa Gone is the best example of that.
By Shridhar Kulkarni