Table No. 21 attempts to be a high-concept thriller about a cute married couple who participate in a game that grows increasingly twisted the longer they play. There are two problems in the film’s execution: the game isn’t that twisted, and the couple is by no means cute.
The couple — Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and his wife, Siya (Tena Desae) — are introduced as they indulge in a resort vacation in Fiji, a free prize that they won in a contest. Even while on a luxury holiday that includes shopping, swimming, and an inordinate amount of time spent showering fully clothed, Vivaan manages to be a jerk. He makes fun of Siya for being excited to fly business class instead of coach for a change, and most of his responses to her are sarcastic. Siya’s no peach either, snapping at the air hostess for bringing her the wrong meal, but she’s nicer than Vivaan.
The bad attitude of the main couple is a problem because it prevents the viewer from feeling the necessary sympathy for them as the plot unfolds. It’s especially hard to care when bad things happen to Vivaan because he seems like he deserves them.
On the last day of their vacation, the couple meets Mr. Khan (Paresh Rawal), the owner of the resort. He invites them to play a game that will be broadcast to eight million online viewers, for a prize of 21 crore rupees (about $4 million). They agree, failing to appreciate the two rules of the game: no quitting, and “if you lie, you die.”
The game, which consists of eight questions and eight accompanying tasks, starts out easy enough. Almost laughably so. Mr. Khan asks Vivaan if he’s ever embarrassed to be affectionate with his wife in public, and Vivaan admits that he is. Vivaan’s task, then, is to passionately kiss Siya in a public place. Even with $4 million on the line, Siya still has to talk Vivaan into kissing her!
While Table No. 21 is geared toward an Indian audience, this task and some of the others that follow are comically prudish. Most are designed to test the fragility of Vivaan’s male ego, which is especially touchy since he is currently jobless. Yet when the couple makes mistakes, it’s invariably Siya who pays the price.
As one would suspect, Vivaan and Siya were not selected at random to play Mr. Khan’s game. Without spoiling anything, their selection is based on an event from their past, but they react to the revelation of why they were chosen as though they are learning about it at the same time as the audience. Given the nature of what is revealed, no one with a functioning conscience could forget what Vivaan and Siya appear to have forgotten about, further proof that they are not shining examples of humanity.
I’m not sure who’s most to blame for the main couple’s rottenness, the actors or director Aditya Datt. Regardless, the characters fail to engender sympathy. Rawal has a few good scenes but doesn’t make Mr. Khan as menacing as he should be.
Director Datt wisely keeps the film’s runtime under two hours, but there’s a lot of filler material that could’ve been cut. Flashbacks are employed during the game, a la Slumdog Millionaire, but only some have bearing on the plot. Datt falls prey to the common Hindi-film trope of insisting on showing how the lead couple first met and fell in love. Most people’s love stories are pretty similar, so unless it specifically relates to the story, it doesn’t matter.
Table No. 21 stands out from the crowd thanks to its good pacing, interesting plot device, and short runtime, but it could have been better.