Teen Patti: A review

Teen Patti – Dir: Leena Yadav; *ing: Amitabh Bachchan, R. Madhavan, Ben Kingsley

Greed is good. Not.

First, let’s push that pesky little elephant off the page: is director Leena Yadav’s second directorial venture a rip-off of 2008 Kevin Spacey card-counting caper, 21, or not? Well, while it may not be a note-for-note copy, it certainly has more than a whiff of ‘inspired from’. Both have a bunch of smarty-pants students from prestigious technical institutes using mathematics to get rich quick (now wouldn’t that be every number nerd’s feverish fantasy come true?); both have a mentor-instigator to the students in the form of a somewhat disgruntled/misunderstood professor and unrecognized resident genius. In Teen Patti, this role is played by Bachchan as Venkat Subramanyam, a mathematical wünderkind whose wünder, unfortunately, is unappreciated and generally pooh-poohed at by the academic authorities, who blithely keep rejecting his research as if rejecting research was going out of style. One night, while supplementing his study with a game of online poker, Venkat hits upon a hypothesis of randomness and probability – kind of like the film’s script – which, when applied to the said game of three-card (teen patti) poker, will pretty much give him control over the outcome, and many chips (of the plastic kind) will be had by all. So sort of like card counting but smarter and sexier because it, you know, involves like a THEOREM and all. And so it is that the reluctant professor, egged on by fellow teacher Shantanu (Madhavan) and four of his best-looking students, lands up at South Mumbai’s seedy gambling dens where the motley crew use his smarts to win big money. As it turns out though, the big money is peanuts compared to the copious amounts of dough at stake at private poker parties hosted by the rich and vacuous, which is where the Subramanyam Six strike next. But by this time, avarice, envy, and suspicion have caused strife among the members, and a mysterious blackmailer who wants his own cut of the loot is being more than a mild annoyance, what with his threats of bodily harm and general badass-ery. And to top it all, the professor’s this-time-tried-and-tested research is rejected. Again!

So what exactly is this astounding and revolutionary theory that can win you millions and that has even Sir Ben ‘Gandhi’ Kingsley acting all goo-goo eyed and dulcet toned, appearing as yet another mathematical wizard in a narrative framing device that comes off not so much random as improbable? Sadly, we will never know, because as mere laypersons, we were adjudged too dumb and primitive, and, taking pity on our fragile layperson egos that would otherwise have been annihilated at not being able to appreciate the finer points of a bunch of numbers and letters, filmmaker/writer Yadav never bothers to describe the theory or even hint at what it is beyond having Venkat wax ineloquent about it in hushed tones while surrounded by disembodied mathematical squiggles floating around his person.

And therein lies the rub. Pulp Fiction’s briefcase full of glowing we-don’t-know-what worked as a device because that’s all it was – a device, a hook. That’s not the case here. For a film that weaves its entire morality tale around a groundbreaking, life-changing doo-dah, to not go into at least some of the details of its basic premise (not to mention, to have the application of it in the poker sequences be played out in so anemic a fashion, cinematically speaking) is a death blow, and it robs the proceedings of any weight, any depth, rendering quite superficial all the moral lessons it purports to deliver. And it’s a real shame too, for Teen Patti is otherwise a handsomely shot and slickly edited film. See it for that, and for an interesting, if uneven, central performance by Bachchan.

Or you could go out and play a hand instead.

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