Caper movie Raja Natwarlal almost gets it right

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      Starring Emraan Hashmi and Paresh Rawal. Rated PG.  In Hindi, with English subtitles. Now Playing

      The pleasure of the caper movie is in knowing more than the characters on the screen do and then realizing there was so much more to know. Director Kunal Deshmukh doesn’t quite get that balance right with Raja Natwarlal, but it still leaves us with an intriguing and amusing film.

      Raja (Emraan Hashmi) is a petty trickster whose low-stakes scams can’t even keep him at the level of poverty to which he has grown accustomed. When he and his adopted brother Raghav (Deepak Tijori) attempt a large heist, things go very wrong.  Soon Raja and his girlfriend Zia (Pakistani actress Humaima Malik in her Bollywood debut) are the target of thugs working for the gangster Varda Yadav (Kay Kay Menon) who controls the Mumbai scene remotely from Cape Town. 

      Raja turns to legendary con man, Yogi (Paresh Rawal), to help him get revenge on Yadav. Yogi promises to turn Raja into a “new Natwarlal”; a reference to the epic Indian hustler who infamously ‘sold’ the Taj Mahal to numerous naïve buyers. Together they assemble a team and devise a complex scheme to sell a non-existent cricket team to Yadav.

      The rest of the film moves rapidly from Mumbai to Cape Town and back again. (Inexplicably, in the film’s version of Cape Town there are about as many black residents as there are in Vancouver.)

      There are some gaping holes in the plot and the pace of the film does not benefit from the many song and dance numbers. The two leads are charming, but it is Paresh Rawal who steals every scene with his perfect comic timing and his expressive face, conveying more nuance than all of Bollywood’s young male heroes combined.

      A truly brave director would have ditched the love story for more screen time with Rawal and his acerbic, middle-aged wisdom.