The Indian professor Venkat Subramanyam (Amitabh Bachchan) has not made much of a name for himself, but he is a brilliant mathematician. He breaks new ground in probability theory, which arouses the interest of the British mathematician Perci Trachtenberg (Ben Kingsley). So, he persuades Venkat to put his theories to good use in practice: at the card game “Teen Patti”! The professor recruits colleague Shantanu (R Madhavan) and some of his brightest students and pays visits to the city’s gambling halls. This is sometimes dangerous but soon pays off.
REVIEW Inspired a little too much by the Hollywood film 21 starring Kevin Spacey, director Leena Yadav directed Teen Patti, her second film after Shabd. While the original was based on fact, the makers embellished the Indian counterpart with a lot of local colors and changed the story drastically in some places. The result is a thoroughly independent film – but not one that really attracts attention. “21” is more exciting and filmed better, and even that suffers from a number of problems.
With “Teen Patti,” the list of worries and worries is even longer. Starting with the story, which is a few degrees less credible here. At “21,” the troupe gutted casinos and thus disappeared into the anonymity of the masses. Here they expose themselves in small gangster pubs, where the lives of everyone involved are at stake from the start. And it only gets more unbelievable from there – with melodrama, love affairs that bring the usual conflict to the group, and an unjustifiably sentimental ending.
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Equally disappointing is the lack of suspense. It doesn’t really matter which of the students is alive and which isn’t because the characters are so faintly drawn. It lacks a characterization across the board that would encourage us to root for it. This is also because we don’t know anything about the people. What drives you? What is your situation in life? Why are they taking the risk? Without this knowledge, it is difficult to stay on the ball. And that begs the question, why, then, does the part have to take almost two and a half hours? Little meat on the bone and a lot of ballast – not a good combination.
But the actors are also to blame for the lack of interest, and that runs right through the hierarchy. Starting with the star, Amitabh Bachchan. The way he always stands around unsuspectingly with his mouth half open is certainly one of his weakest performances of all. He can thrive on big speeches when he lets off energy, but in between, he remains inconspicuous. Hence his tête-à-tête with Sir Ben Kingsley is disappointing. The Oscar winner, who is of Indian origin, acts with dignity, but he doesn’t manage to warm viewers to the plot either. And since this is the trigger, after all, it carries weight.
There are even more guest appearances, such as a weak one from Jackie Shroff, a serviceable one from Ajay Devgan, and a good one from Shakti Kapoor. His daughter Shraddha debuts as one of the students and is quite good as the only woman in the troupe. It’s questionable that this lady is mostly relegated to the role of sexy-dressed distraction (despite being a student like the others), but that doesn’t detract greatly from her performance. Her male co-stars are given slightly more gripping roles but don’t take the chance of getting noticed. Even Madhavan remains pale.
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But perhaps the biggest problem is the complete lack of interest in the central issues: mathematics and gambling. Formulas keep flickering across the screen, and cards are exchanged – but we neither know the rules of the game nor do we know what Bachchan’s great theory is actually supposed to be. Even the “Monty Hall” problem explained in “21” appears here just as an interpolation, without explanation, without meaning. We are simply presented with facts without our brain itself being activated. And so you can’t bang along while playing. Instead, you just watch as a few people discard cards.
But at least they do it stylishly. Yadav stages with an elegant routine and also allows himself a few scenes that only contribute to the atmosphere and less to the development of the plot. This also includes successful songs, which are not glorious on their own but fit perfectly into the film – be it a melodic rock song or a seductive number to which a dancer moves provocatively and heatedly. In short: that has class. But, of course, that’s not enough to make a film like this one worth seeing.
“Teen Patti” is, even more than “21”, nothing in elegant packaging. There’s a lack of tension, there’s a lack of drama, and there’s a lack of characters to root for. And so boredom creeps in in no time, even as we enjoy an acting duel between perhaps India’s biggest star and an icon of Western cinema. Don against Gandhi, Bachchan against Kingsley – that makes you sit up and take notice. It is a pity that this summit meeting is taking place in such an unsatisfactory factory.
SONGS 1) Intezar – Soft rock number, quite nice (Naresh Kamat). 2) Teen Patti / Koi Bhi Na Jaane – Solid but unimaginative background song (Salim Merchant). 3) Summer Time – Groovy but a little soggy number with Jackie Shroff (Joe Alvarez). 4) Neeyat / Thoda Thoda – Highly seductive but rather mediocre as a song (Sunidhi Chauhan).