Maqbool Khan’s Khaali Peeli is set in the Mumbai that we often encounter in the movies – the rough-and-tough megapolis that’s actually as small as a village, where swagger is the real coin of the realm.

In this city, a boy meets a girl, falls in love, and then meets her years later without knowing her identity. The reunion includes other characters from the childhood from which he had fled. Clearly, Vijay, who boasts that the lines of his palm form a map of Mumbai, hasn’t put enough distance between himself and his past.

Director Maqbool Khan and writers Sima Agarwal and Yash Keswani similarly follow Vijay’s example and do not stray far from the lovers-on-the-run template. When taxi driver Vijay (Ishaan Khatter) gives a lift to the runaway Pooja (Ananya Panday), a predictable set of events follows.

Pooja’s pimp Yusuf (Jaideep Ahlawat), who is on the verge of selling her to a paedophile businessman, loses his temper. Police officer Tawde (Zakir Hussain) suspects that the unusually hunky taxi driver and the attractive woman in the back seat who’s clutching a bag for dear life aren’t quite the married couple they claim to be. Vijay is tempted to trade Pooja for a fat finder’s fee.

Khaali Peeli is being streamed on a pay-per-view model on Zee5. The film’s title is a play on the “kaali-peeli” black-and-yellow taxis that skulk about the streets of Mumbai. The slangy phrase “khaali peeli”, which could mean “for the heck of it” or “much ado about nothing”, sometimes applies to the movie’s efforts to say something new or different about its subject matter.

Director Maqbool Khan meddles with the timeline to keep the meter ticking. We watch a scene and then learn what happened “seventeen minutes earlier” or “seventy-five minutes earlier”. This device makes the plot seem a lot more interesting than it is, but also needlessly stretches the run-time to 113 minutes.

Fortunately, the young and well-matched leads treat the shopworn material as though it is brand new. Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday sparkle together and in their solo scenes. It also helps that Panday’s character is no distressed damsel but has her wits about her at all times – the one advance from previous movies in this genre.

Khaali Peeli (2020).