When the 2010 Bollywood movie Teen Patti hit our cinema screens, there was much excitement about the addition of stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Ben Kingsley and Madhavan. With a budget of ₹45 crore, you’d hope that the storyline would be worth watching, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. The fact that this release only generated ₹17.6 crore proves just how much of a failure it was at the box office and these figures were the basis for Anupama Chopra’s scathing analysis of it as a “train wreck of a movie”.
Just what went wrong with the Teen Patti movie?
First and foremost, it appears to be an unashamed rip-off of the Hollywood movie “21” distributed by Columbia Pictures, starring Kevin Spacey. There are only a handful of casino-themed Bollywood movies out there, although there’s no doubt that Bollywood and Indian culture has rubbed off on the casino industry. There are online casino operators that offer Bollywood-themed live tables, sporting Indian trained dealers and hosts, along with typical interiors and furnishings that one might expect from a casino on the subcontinent. Venkat Subramaniam, played by Amitabh Bachchan who recently appeared in Gulabo Sitabo, takes the role of professor of mathematics. He is something of a reclusive nerd, with a passion for software engineering. He is portrayed in the same light as Spacey’s character in 21, Micky Rosa, a professor employed by the illustrious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Venkat had been sitting on a potentially life-changing mathematical secret for many years and a chance meeting with Perci Trachtenberg, the world’s most respected living mathematician, gives Venkat the chance to explain his theory on using randomness and probability to crack the classic Indian card game of Teen Patti. After proving his theory works at the Teen Patti tables online, he enlists the help of a team of players that can help him prove it offline too. Shantanu Biswas, played by Madhavan who was cast in another average movie, Tanu Weds Manu, is a professor that works under Venkat and is tasked with recruiting three young students to help test his Teen Patti theory. There are shades of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) in 21 here, with Shantanu Biswas saddled with personal debt and desperate for a way out of his crisis and a new start in life.
It’s a poor replication of Teen Patti the game
Another reason why Teen Patti has fared poorly at the box office is that the movie itself doesn’t provide a fair representation of the classic card game played by millions of households around the world. In the movie, everything is too ‘perfect’ and forced, as if the director is controlling the action rather than the actors. Although director Leena Yadav insists that she and her cast brushed up on their Teen Patti knowledge and techniques before shooting, you’d never have known it. Simply because there were so few nuances of the card game exposed on camera.
Worse still, Yadav admitted months later that although she “can play” the game, she doesn’t play “too well”. It begs the question as to why a director and producer team would consider making a film about a card game they don’t live and breathe. Yadav sought to gloss over this issue by insisting that Teen Patti was a game played only by females living in “idle, rich circles” across the country or “during Diwali”.
Yadav also brushes off comparisons with 21
Shortly after Teen Patti was released on the big screen, Leena Yadav fielded questions from IANS reporters about the glaring comparisons between the storyline in 21 and that of Teen Patti. Yadav said although she didn’t “deny the two films sound similar” she hadn’t “seen 21” herself. It’s difficult to know who to believe. Yadav goes on to state that her script for Teen Patti was “written long before 21 was released” and could not therefore provide any inspiration for her film.
Instead, Yadav doubles down by insisting that her primary inspiration was the MIT’s iconic blackjack team, whose exploits were revealed in the best-seller book Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Yadav said that her film couldn’t be about blackjack simply because “no one in India understands blackjack”. It’s hard to believe that the simple rules of blackjack are a complete mystery to card players on the subcontinent.
Yadav does admit that comparisons can be drawn between 21 and Teen Patti as with “many other contemporary films”, shining a spotlight on the “materialism, greed and acquisitiveness in our times”.
In summary, Teen Patti is a largely forgettable cinematic experience. The mathematical theories that underpinned Venkat’s vision to consistently win at Teen Patti go largely unexplained, leaving viewers thoroughly disconnected from the get-go. Although the film’s soundtrack is composed by Indian duo Salim-Sulaiman, there is a distinct Western vibe to most of the music here, including a couple of club-style remixes. It all seems very out of place. All in all, this disaster is a movie to forget, joining a long line of releases like Dil To Baccha Hai Ji.