“Teen Patti” is about Venkat Subramanyam (Amitabh Bachchan), an unconventional math professor whose groundbreaking theorem on randomness and probability is so revolutionary, so just plain out there, that mere laymen will never understand it. Of course, you have to trust filmmaker/co-writer Leena Yadav about this since she never actually describes the theorem or shows its application anywhere outside a casino.
This spirited and entertaining film may be a safe bet at the boxoffice, spurred by curiosity about a thespian summit between Bollywood megastar Bachchan and Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley as British mathematician Perci Trachtenberg.
Kingsley (who is half-Indian) gets laughs for Perci’s inability to pronounce “Venkat,” let alone “Subramanyam.” His scenes are few, but his character is vital.
Venkat’s theorem on probability can be best demonstrated with the popular Indian card game of Teen Patti, and the proof of its effectiveness is a huge pile of cash. Venkat and three of his star pupils learn hand signals, don disguises and soon clean out Mumbai’s illicit card clubs. Troubles arise when the mob catches wind of their “luck.” You then learn that one of the players is not to be trusted.
The quality of the acting varies. Strangely, Bachchan chews up the scenery in every scene except those with Sir Ben, which seems to indicate that Yadav was intimidated by the prospect of directing the two giants together and erred on the side of reverence. Shraddha Kapoor demonstrates spunk and complexity as the only girl in the bunch. (Kapoor is the daughter of another veteran scenery-chewer, Shakti Kapoor, who makes a small but intense appearance.)
The soundtrack by Salim-Sulaiman is a high point, as are the scenes of Venkat and the kids at the casino, though for some reason nobody ever suspects that they’re all working together, and the team’s “subtle” hand signals can be spotted three tables away. If they tried any of those shenanigans in Vegas, they’d soon get a very stern talking to from a guy named Guido — remember “The Cooler?”
Opened: February 26 (Hinduja Ventures)
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ben Kingsley, R. Madhavan, Siddharth Kher, Shraddha Kapoor, Dhruv Ganesh, Saira Mohan, Raima Sen
Director: Leena Yadav
Screenwriters: Leena Yadav, Shiv Subramaniyam
Producer: Ambika A. Hinduja
Director of photography: Aseem Bajaj
Choreographer: Ashley Lobo
Editors: Hughes Winborne, Kaushik Das
Not rated, 141 minutes