Hollywood has seen several films revolving around the reclusive mathematician (A Beautiful Mind, Proof), usually portraying them as eccentric geniuses. Here, too, Venkat is oddly impulsive, inviting his students out in the open to display a point and irking the fuddy-duddy management with his unconventional ways. Special: Teen Patti
Fellow professor Shantanu (Madhavan) is impressed and suggests the only way to test the theory would be applying it to a teen patti game (poker). Appalled at the idea of gambling, Venkat refuses at first but is seduced by the prospect of putting his calculations to test.
A few other students join the expedition and decide to go to an underground gambling alley in disguise. The only girl among them, Aparna (Shraddha Kapoor), fights to be part of the team. She arrives on the scene, which is brimming with men, in garish make-up and low-waist jeans.
The local bhai (Mahesh Manjrekar) is immediately attracted to her, and she foolishly lets out their true identity by speaking in English. It leads to a fracas that leaves the team rattled.
Venkat bellows that this is the end, but the students want him to continue for the money. From then on, a mysterious caller forces Venkat to continue playing and sharing his earnings. While internal friction has team members complaining of being shortchanged and their share getting stolen, the teamís tryst with gambling will unfold far more severe consequences.
This entire story is, in fact, a flashback, as recounted by mathematician-turned-gambler Venkat to Perci Trachtenberg (Ben Kingsley), a magician-turned-mathematician. An admirer of his work, Trachtenberg invites Venkat to the University of Cambridge and thatís how the flashback begins.
A little like the Hollywood film 21 (2008),Teen Pattiís central flaw is its meandering storytelling. Writer-director Leena Yadav (Shabd, 2005) takes too long to establish the premise and explain how Venkat wants to crack the probability principle.
Itís a complicated route where the professor explains why he thinks even shuffling playing cards is not entirely random, and despite paying attention, youíre not quite sure how path breaking this idea is.
Yadavís narration is high on style, but doesnít quite articulate the substance. Take the scene where the characters talk philosophy at the gaming table, a moment that could have been edgy had we been able to get the significance of this talk and its connection with the plot.
Again, the emotion of human greed is explored, but only momentarily.
The first half is pretty much wasted with characters rambling and repeating conversations. The remaining half is full of faux suspense, an item number, and gimmicks like a loaded pistol with one bullet being tested to the theory of probability. Clearly, the film isnít as cool as it thinks it is.
The filmís female characters are relegated to the background, either coaxing the boyfriend to get married or playing the provocative distracter in the team. Aparna is constantly getting mauled, and in one scene is severely molested (or raped, weíre not sure and no one bothers to tell us).
When the team graduates from shady underground dens to high-profile parties, she moves from distracting drunken low lives to flirting with sons from rich families.
Jackie Shroff, Ajay Devgn and Mita Vashisht appear in embarrassing cameos and disappear without a thought.
Amitabh Bachchan renders this role, a cakewalk for him, effortlessly. However, his conversations with Einsteinís photograph veer his performance towards the theatrical. Ben Kingsley is marvellous enacting his serious role with a hint of mischief. Madhavan is dependably good. The remaining cast (Vaibhav Talwar, Dhruv Ganesh, Siddharth Kher), just as important as the central, is impressive. Shraddha Kapoor makes a confident debut.
Aseem Bajajís photography (U, Me Aur Hum, Golmaal) is excellent, though one misses the dynamism in the gaming scenes. Sound design by Andrew Belletty (Don, Being Cyrus) is exceptional. The interesting background score (Salim-Sulaiman) remains constantly more active than the storytelling.
This wannabe psychological thriller is a rough diamond that needed polishing still. Yadav extracts fabulous performances from the talented cast, but fails to evoke our sentiments for them.
And one can hardly recommend a film on the strength of the performances alone.
Rating: 2 stars