Film: "Table No.21"; Cast: Rajeev Khandelwal, Tena Desae, Paresh Rawal; Directed by Aditya Dutta; Rating: ***
The last 30 minutes of this gripping thriller has a life of its own. In fact, the end-game is so stunning and so overpowering in its message, that it makes us overlook the ingrained improbability of the rest of the film.
Not that "Table No.21" (and wait till you figure out why and how the film gets its title!) doesn't work in its totality. It does. It's a surprisingly good, almost-kickass way to start your movie-going in 2013. A goodlooking original thriller shot in eye-catching Fiji, "Table No.21" opens with a rather ambitious starry-eyed couple landing in Fiji to spend a prize holiday in the lap of luxury.
Director Aditya Dutta gets the tonality of the 'good life' right. The narrative then weaves itself into a rather bewildering and bizarre labyrinth, that is partly a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the preposterous aspirations of reality game-shows where ludicrous thresholds of morality are crossed for high-end rewards, and partly a comment on what lengths young people would go to for their designer dreams.
Almost all through the game, we sense there's more to millionaire Paresh Rawal's game plan than just millions of hits on the internet that keeps him and the narration drooling till the end. The film draws its reasonable power and energy from its mix of the playful and the somber. The two moods co-mingle in rewarding waves of episodic overtures where one by one, and the holidaying couple are swept into a vortex of horrific self-exploration.
The screenplay, written by as many as three writers (Sheershak Anand, Abhijeet Deshpande and Shantanu Ray Chibber) exudes an uncompromising freshness of approach. The last 30 to 35 minutes of the film is where the meat of the matter materialises in a moving flourish of conscientiousness. It is only towards the end that we recognise the actual demons that haunt the gamely tone of the rest of the film.
Rajeev Khandelwal is an actor who chooses unusual projects. His repertoire from "Aamir" to "Soundtrack" to "Shaitaan" and now "Table No.21" shows the mind of an actor in pursuit of excellence.
Paresh Rawal's dependability as a performer of unpredictable skills never lets a script down. Here he is partly a slime-ball, party a screwball and finally a grieving angry father. Watch out for the innocent young Druv Ganesh as Rawal's son. As a victim of college ragging, his eyes will haunt your for a long time after the film is over.
"Table No.21" is a surprise. The taut thriller shot on a scenic location constantly keeps a step ahead of the audience. This is an enjoyable and eventually disturbing riches-to-ragging story to start off the year.