TEEN PATTI

DIRECTOR: Leena Yadav

CAST: Amitabh Bachchan, Sir Ben Kingsley, R Madhavan, Raima Sen, Siddharth Ganesh, Sharadha Kapoor

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes

CLASSIFICATION: PG13

RATING: ***

It isn't common to find female directors in Bollywood. But Farah Khan (Main Hoon Naa and Om Shanti Om), Zoya Akhtar (Luck by Chance) and Leena Yadav (Shabd) are rectifying that disillusioning status quo in Tinseltown.

Heck, if Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), Deepa Mehta (Earth, Fire and Water) and Gurinder Chadda (Bend it Like Beckham) can make in-roads on a global scale, so can they.

On Yadav's latest offering, Teen Patti, which opened alongside Vijay Lalwani's Karthik Calling Karthik, it would be unfair to pit them against each other as they belong to different genres.

In casting acting heavyweights Amitabh Bachchan and Sir Ben Kingsley, she piqued curiosity.

Although in a similar vein to Robert Luketic's 21, which was based on Ben Mezrich's hit seller Bringing Down the House, Yadav gives it a Bollywood-esque flavour.

At the heart of the story is maths professor Venkat Subramaniam (Bachchan), who accepts an invitation to London from a fellow genius mathematician, Perci Trachtenberg (Kingsley). During the meeting of the masterminds, Venkat recalls his foray into gambling.

He was a college professor with a dislike of any rules - a stance that saw him at odds with his colleagues. With three years to go till retirement, Venkat makes a startling mathematical discovery that has serious repercussions for gambling establishments.

As "research", he enlists the help of Professor Shantanu Biswas, who is up to his eyeballs in debt with a local don; and students Sid (Kher), Apu (Kapoor), Bikram (Ganesh) and Abbas (Vaibhav Talwar), with his sure-fire card counting strategy which makes them tons of money. For some students, it means tuition money in hand and for others an adrenalin rush of note.

But what starts out as an innocent experiment soon turns dangerous when the guys are blackmailed by a mysterious stranger. Drawn into a web of greed, debauchery and lies, it isn't long before the situation snowballs into a deadly cat-and- mouse game that shifts from underground gaming to high-rolling parties.

Yadav's direction is razor-sharp and in maintaining the fast pace necessitated by a thriller she keeps a tight rein on the story.

She also deserves much praise for ensuring her cast is given ample scope.

Bachchan proves that he is a jack of all trades. His tour de force performance is brilliantly matched by Kingsley. Their quick-witted dialogue makes their scenes some of the movie's most compelling.

While South Indian actor Madhavan struggled to gain a proper foothold in Hindi cinema when he started out with Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein (2001) and Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (2002), he is certainly making giant strides.

A seasoned actor, he is completely at ease in the skin of his depraved character.

Newcomers Kher and Kapoor make a formidable entry with their Bonnie and Clyde type characters. Talwar and Ganesh are sterling in their supporting roles. While Yadav raises the stakes with Teen Patti, her gamble certainly pays off.

Strictly for discerning film buffs.

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