Tag Archives: R. Madhavan

TV Review: Breathe (2018)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Amazon’s TV series Breathe is brilliant at times: sharp and thought-provoking, giving skilled actors known mainly for their film work a chance to shine in a different medium. Yet it’s a series of ups and downs, with more downs than ups as the story progresses.

R. Madhavan leads the series as Danny Mascarenhas, father to an ailing son named Josh (Atharva Vishwakarma). The severity of Josh’s illness is mentioned indirectly at first, when Danny pulls a relative aside during a birthday party and asks him to take back an overly generous gift for Josh, lest the boy realize something is up. “Why do we have to tell him what we know?” Danny kindly tells the uncle. When next we see Josh, he’s in the hospital, being treated for a disease that’s given him months to live unless he receives a lung transplant. The whole sequence is beautifully constructed.

In order to receive a new set of lungs, Josh not only has to wait for a donor with the correct rare blood type to pass away — and in a manner that keeps their organs viable for transplant — he has to wait for the three people ahead of him on the recipient list to get their lungs first. Bereft of options, Danny steals a list of registered donors and hatches a morally questionable (at best) plan to extend the lives of Josh and those ahead of him on the transplant list.

Elsewhere in Mumbai, another father tortures himself over his own failure to protect his child. Police detective Kabir Sawant (Amit Sadh) lost his young daughter three years earlier when the curious girl accidentally shot herself with his service revolver. Kabir’s resultant misery and alcoholism have driven his wife, Ria (Sapna Pabbi), to file for divorce. As Kabir finally tries to pull himself out of his depression, he senses something fishy about a series of accidents among a cohort of people with the same blood type, who all happen to be organ donors.

Sadh and Madhavan are perfectly cast as the two fathers: one searching for redemption and the other trying to save his son while he still can. Both actors command attention despite some flaws in the way their characters are written. Kabir spends the first few episodes mired in a drunken funk, but he’s really engaging when his plotline finally meets with Danny’s. Danny is better from the get-go, although his arc becomes scattershot he pivots from cold-hearted to conflicted from scene to scene.

On the whole, the show is strongest during the setup phase, as Danny pursues a course of action prohibited by his Catholic faith (and laws and general human decency, of course). Interesting graphical illustrations of the factors he must consider when incapacitating his victims cleverly forces the audience to put themselves in the mind of a methodical killer. (Note: though the dialogue is primarily in Hindi, the articles and written materials shown onscreen in this sequence are written in English.)

During this phase of the story, we see Danny’s schemes play out in real-time. It’s intense, since there’s always a chance that something will go wrong. However, in later episodes of Breathe, Danny’s crimes are shown only after we know he’s gotten away with them, removing all the tension. This also makes the later crimes seem ridiculous and impossible to execute, rather than meticulously planned operations.

The weakest point in the entire series is Episode 5: “Bad Fish.” With Kabir convinced that he’s on the trail of a serial killer, he first asks his boss for leave to investigate before heading to Ria’s to warn her. Both scenes — which together make up the first ten minutes of the episode– are nothing but people shouting at Kabir as he tries to explain himself. Kabir’s boss wants him to focus on his overdue paperwork, and Ria and her father just want Kabir to leave.

This is bad writing for multiple reasons. First, it’s annoying to endure ten consecutive minutes of characters screaming the same things over and over. Second, one of the points Breathe emphasizes is that, for all his faults, Kabir is an excellent detective. Everyone around him says so. For him to be dismissed by both his boss and his ex-wife and her family makes no sense given what they know about him. Finally, his father-in-law’s refusal to listen to Kabir’s concerns for Ria makes little sense in a show built around the paternal desire to protect one’s offspring.

Despite being a show about a guy who hunts down organ donors, Breathe does a good job challenging stigmas against organ donation particular to India. Danny discusses concerns over the spiritual implications of organ donation with another family in the hospital waiting room in a scene that explains both objections to the practice as well as scriptural evidence that supports the practice. The series repeatedly shows just how critical the need is for donors willing to make one last compassionate act as they exit this life.

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Movie Review: Saala Khadoos (2016)

SaalaKhadoos3 Stars (out of 4)

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Writer-director Sudha Kongara’s Saala Khadoos (“Mr. Snooty,” according to the English subtitles) is a moving tale that utilizes all the best elements of sports movies past. Ritika Singh makes a splash in her debut, working opposite R. Madhavan in this story of two hot-headed boxers working toward a common goal.

Madhavan plays Adi, a boxing coach still smarting over the abrupt end to his own fighting career nearly twenty years ago. Dev (Zakir Hussain), the man who sabotaged Adi’s career, now heads the Indian Women’s Boxing Federation. Fearful that Adi will make public what he knows of Dev’s past misdeeds — as well as the chairman’s penchant for trading places on the national team for sex — Dev exiles Adi to the boxing backwater of Chennai.

Despite being set up to fail, Adi finds a promising fighter who has as little respect for authority as he does. Madhi (Singh) is the younger sister of the Chennai club’s top prospect, Lux (Mumtaz Sorcar). Madhi is a better natural fighter than Lux, but it’s Madhi’s fiery temper that leads Adi to focus his attention on her, at Lux’s expense.

As much as the story is about the personality changes that Adi and Madhi undergo while he tries to turn her into a champion, Saala Khadoos is also a story of sibling rivalry. Lux has always been special, the one who will finally lift her family out of poverty. A successful boxing career will confer her a spot in the police academy, and all of the family’s resources to this point have gone toward helping her reach that goal. Madhi’s success in the ring threatens not only Lux’s future but her very identity.

An old assistant coach (played by Nasser) explains the significance of the local conditions to Adi. All of the young women who train at the gym are poor, and boxing is a lifeline, not just a hobby. Adi can be as much of a hard-ass as he wants during training, but he’s morally obligated not to abandon them.

Adi’s character evolution is predictably slow. He’s never really cared about anyone before, and Dev’s betrayal still weighs heavily on him. Likewise, Madhi’s attitude problems make her hard to love. She’s been on the defensive for so long that she has trouble trusting anyone’s motives.

Singh is so much fun to watch as Madhi. That defensive attitude is reflected in her posture, her shoulders hunched protectively, giving away her confident swagger as the bluff it is. When Madhi hurts her right hand just before a fight, she spends the entire round holding her hand out of the way to avoid further injury.

Madhavan is terrific as well, looking especially cool as Adi rides his motorcycle during the opening credits. Nasser and Sorcar are super in their supporting roles, and Hussain is slimy as can be as the villain.

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Movie Review: Rang De Basanti (2006)

RangDeBasanti3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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It’s sort of depressing that the story of Rang De Basanti (“Color It Saffron“) still resonates nine years after its release. The movie’s calls for change remain largely unrealized, a testament to the power of the stagnation it rails against.

Rang De Basanti connects the present to the past through the efforts of a British documentary filmmaker, Sue McKinley (Alice Patten). She arrives in India hoping to film a recreation of the Indian independence movement of the 1920s-30s, inspired by the regret-filled diary entries of her grandfather, a jailer and torturer on behalf of the Empire.

Sue’s local contact, Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), introduces the filmmaker to her university friends, who reluctantly agree to participate in the project. Group leader DJ (Aamir Khan), sullen rich kid Karan (Siddharth), poet Aslam (Kunal Kapoor), and tag-along Sukhi (Sharman Joshi) slowly find themselves maturing as they inhabit the roles of their revolutionary forefathers.

Further change is thrust upon them when another pivotal role in the reenactment is filled by Laxman (Atul Kulkarni), a Hindu nationalist who has a particular problem with Muslims. His integration is uneasy, especially since his role requires him to work closely with Aslam, a Muslim.

When a tragedy hits close to home, the guys realize that the work of the independence movement won’t be complete until Indian democracy is transparent and devoid of corruption. They take matters into their own hands, adopting the violent methods of their forefathers.

Although Khan is the highest profile star in the cast, his role isn’t necessarily the most important. This is truly an ensemble picture, with every role fleshed out. Every member of the group — including Sonia — has a reason to participate in Sue’s project. They each require a kind of character growth best developed by delving into history.

Sepia-toned scenes from Sue’s documentary are woven into scenes from the present, showing the way that the lives of these contemporary young people parallel the lives of young people of the past. It’s a theme that resonates beyond the borders of India. Every democracy is founded on a struggle that modern citizens too often ignore, resulting in a failure to meet founding ideals. We can all do better.

It’s unfortunate that the poster for Rang De Basanti features only Khan, Siddharth, Kapoor, and Joshi, because every performance in the film is superb. Kulkarni portrays a difficult character with great empathy. Patten and Soha Ali Khan are resolute, their characters developing along with the young men. R. Madhavan is great in a supporting role as Sonia’s boyfriend.

Siddharth’s role is the meatiest, with Karan dropping his jaded act as the truth starts to torment him. Kapoor imbues Aslam with stoicism, and Joshi plays a great toady.

Even though it’s not a solo starring role, this is among Khan’s best performances. A highlight is a scene in which DJ confesses to Sue that he actually graduated from college five years ago, but fear of the future keeps him hanging around campus with his buddies. The scene serves the dual purpose of explaining why DJ looks so much older than the others. (Khan was already 41 when the film released, not that this would be his last time playing a college student).

Where Rang De Basanti falters is in its overuse of news footage in the final thirty minutes. It’s tricky, because the guys take drastic measures in order to inspire fellow citizens to action. But frequent shots of news broadcasts and opinion pieces slow down the narrative. Every random college student who vows to reform Indian democracy in a man-on-the-street interview distances the audience from the main characters. It interrupts the flow of emotions just when they should reach their peak.

That said, Rang De Basanti is a surefire tearjerker. It’s a sad reminder that no nation is as free or equal as it could be, but it’s an important message. The work may be hard, and it may be ongoing, but it is work worth doing, just as it was so long ago.

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Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015)

tanu-weds-manu-returns-poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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Tanu Weds Manu Returns is the feel-bad romantic comedy of the year. Lighthearted moments are undercut by a cynicism about the institution of marriage that leaves one feeling melancholy at best, depressed at worst.

2011’s Tanu Weds Manu was a conventional romcom about a pair of opposites: wild-child Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and steadfast Manu (R. Madhavan). Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR, henceforth) picks up after the first four years of their miserable marriage.

Tanu is so desperate to get out of her marriage that she has Manu committed to a London mental institution. She later feels bad, calling Manu’s friend Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) to rescue her husband while she flies back to India.

The couple wind up at their respective family homes in different cities (the geography in TWMR is confusing for international audiences). Tanu flirts with her parents’ tenant, Chintu (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and unwisely reconnects with her short-tempered ex-boyfriend, Raja (Jimmy Shergill). Manu notices a college athlete who is the spitting image of Tanu, only with a pixie cut. He stalks Kusum (also Ranaut) until she relents, and they start dating.

Manu falling for his wife’s younger lookalike is a cute story setup, but it gets creepier the more serious the relationship becomes. Pappi warns that the new relationship is a bad idea — especially since it begins before Tanu and Manu are officially divorced — but he doesn’t call Manu’s obsession what it is: weird.

It hard to know who to root for in this movie. Tanu and Manu are both incredible jerks to each other. Tanu is arrogant and lacks empathy. Manu is selfish but wishy-washy. He doesn’t even possess enough will to make his climactic decision on his own, without prompting.

Worse, TWMR makes the characters’ circumstances so dire that its impossible to resolve the story in a satisfying way. There are really only a handful of things that one spouse could say to the other that would permanently destroy their marriage. When Tanu is at her most pitiable, Manu says one of those things to her. It’s crushing to watch.

Director Anand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma give themselves only two possible outcomes: either Tanu and Manu get back together, or Manu weds Kusum and says good-bye to Tanu forever. Neither option feels good, and both are bad for Kusum.

Kusum is the movie’s redeeming element. She’s an independent tomboy, but she’s also sweet and honest. She’s reluctant to get romantically involved with anyone because, if the relationship negatively affects her athletics, it will make it that much harder for other girls from her village to get scholarships in the future. That Manu pursues her anyway is a sign of his selfishness.

Ranuat’s acting abilities are widely acclaimed, and it’s fun to see her pull off two very different roles in the same movie with such ease. Dobriyal is also entertainingly twitchy as Pappi. Manu’s not much of character as it is, and Madhavan doesn’t add much.

In addition to an unsatisfying story, international audiences will be hampered by poorly translated subtitles. Minor spelling errors — such as writing “apologies” instead of “apologize” — hint at greater problems in translating the humor from Hindi to English. The crowd of mostly native Hindi speakers at my showing laughed uproariously to lines that, in English, read as utilitarian.

Watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns for Kangana Ranaut. Just don’t expect to have a lot of fun while doing it.

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Opening May 22: Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Tanu Weds Manu Returns — the sequel to 2011’s Tanu Weds Manu — hits Chicago area theaters on May 22, 2015. Kangana Ranaut and R. Madhavan are back as the title characters, with Ranuat taking on an additional role as Tanu’s doppelgänger, an athlete named Kusum.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns opens on Friday at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax Cinemas in Niles, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 8 min.

Bombay Velvet — which opened in twelve Chicago area theaters last weekend — carries over for a second week at the River East 21, MovieMax, South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Woodridge 18. The same five theaters also hold over Piku for a third week, while Gabbar is Back gets a fourth week at MovieMax.

Other Indian movies showing at MovieMax this weekend include 365 Days (Telugu), Lailaa O Lailaa (Malayalam), Demonte Colony (Tamil), Mosagallaku Mosagadu (Telugu), 36 Vayadhinile (Tamil), Chirakodinja Kinavukal (Malayalam), and Lion (Telugu).

Movie Review: Jodi Breakers (2012)

2.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Fine. Nice. Okay. Those are probably the best words to describe Jodi Breakers (“Couple Breakers”), a pleasant but unremarkable romantic comedy about a pair of divorce facilitators.

Fresh off his own financially disastrous divorce, Sid (R. Madhavan) hires himself out to men looking to entrap their cheating wives, thereby avoiding costly alimony payments. Sid hires Sonali (Bipasha Basu) as his partner, which allows them to expand their client base to include women looking to divorce their wayward husbands.

Sid meets privately with the wife of a wealthy businessman with a mistress, who arranges for Sid and Sonali to travel to Greece. There, the duo successfully plants evidence to frame the mistress, Maggie (Dipannita Sharma), who’s tossed out by the businessman, Mark (Milind Soman).

Sonali and Sid get drunk and sleep together while in Greece. Only after they return to India does Sonali discover that Sid lied about the identity of the woman who hired them to break up Mark and Maggie.

As a romantic comedy, Jodi Breakers isn’t particularly romantic or comical. Director Ashwini Chaudhary strikes an uneasy balance between wackiness and more straightforward comedy. Direct-to-camera speeches by Sid’s best friend, Nano (Omi Vaidya), periodically ruin the flow of the film. The leads are instructed to overact in scenes that don’t require it.

Madhavan and Basu have a friendly rapport with each other, but their chemistry doesn’t go further than that. Even though their love scenes are racy by Bollywood standards, they lack sizzle. Mark and Maggie convey more passion and longing in their glances, upstaging the lead couple.

The screenplay hits the necessary plot points and generally makes sense, but scenes drag on too long at the expense of character development elsewhere. Chaudhary, who also wrote the screenplay, spends too much time showing Sid and Sonali getting drunk, without showing why they fell for each other in the first place.

Also missing from the script are scenes of Sid and Sonali executing the jobs they are hired to do. Sid’s first solo job and the duo’s takedown of Mark and Maggie in Greece are the only time we see them at work, other than some brief, humorous client interviews. Scenes of Sid and Sonali successfully entrapping cheaters could’ve set up their inevitable romance while providing laughs.

Other elements of the film are similarly okay, but uninspiring. The music is catchy and the dance numbers are fine, apart from one that’s memorable for the wrong reasons. Someone needs to have a word about appropriate fringe placement with whomever designed the costumes for the female backup dancers in “Bipasha” (below).

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Opening February 24: Jodi Breakers and Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya

Valentine’s Day has turned into a month-long event as Bollywood releases two more romantic comedies the weekend beginning Friday, February 24, 2012. Jodi Breakers stars R. Madhavan and Bipasha Basu as a pair of professional breakup artists.

Jodi Breakers opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min.

Also opening on Friday at all of the above theaters is Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (TNLHG), which has a runtime of 2 hrs. 10 min. TNLHG stars Genelia D’Souza and Ritesh Deshmukh respectively as a rich girl who forces one of her father’s underlings to kidnap her in order to escape her arranged marriage. Click here for a national theater list.

Having earned $1,026,303 in its first two weeks in U.S. theaters, the romantic comedy Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu gets a third week at the South Barrington 30. The romantic drama Ekk Deewana Tha leaves Chicago area theaters after just one week.

Other Indian films playing at the Golf Glen 5 this weekend include Padmashree Bharath Dr. Saroj Kumar (Malayalam) and the Telugu movies Ishq, Love Failure, My Heart Is Beating, and Poola Rangadu.

Movie Review: Tanu Weds Manu (2011)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Consider the Saltine cracker: a food so bland and inoffensive it’s one of the few things you can keep down when you have the stomach flu. It’s salted, but not enough to make it a go-to snack when you’re craving something salty. In fact, you kind of forget about that box of Saltines, relegating it to the back of the cupboard until the next time you either come down with the flu or run out of anything else to eat.

Tanu Weds Manu is the Saltine cracker of movies.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Tanu Weds Manu. The costumes are pretty, the music is peppy, and the main characters are basically nice people. But there’s nothing to Tanu Weds Manu. Movies need conflict and urgency to maintain interest, and Tanu Weds Manu is devoid of both.

Since the title gives away the movie’s ending, I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything with this summary of the film.

Manu (R. Madhavan): Hi, Tanu. Our parents want us to get married. You’re pretty, so I’m game.
Tanu (Kangana Ranaut): I don’t want to marry you.
Manu: Okay. I’ll leave.
Tanu: Wait. You seem like a nice enough guy, but I want to marry someone else.
Manu: Okay. I’ll leave.
Tanu: Wait. I changed my mind. I want to marry you.
Other Guy (Jimmy Shergill): Hey, what about me?
Tanu & Manu: Sorry, but the title says we have to get married.
Other Guy: Okay. I’ll leave.

There you have it. Tanu’s a bit of a bad girl in that she drinks and smokes, but she’s otherwise uncontroversial. Manu is a terminally nice doctor and a bit of a pushover. There’s no real chemistry between them, so their romance feels like titular destiny more than anything else. Shergill’s villain, Raja, gets into fights, but he’s basically non-threatening. Everyone else in the film is forgettable.

Watching Tanu Weds Manu, I was reminded of my mother-in-law’s stance on the children’s book series Junie B. Jones. My mother-in-law, Joan (whom I love), refuses to read Junie B. Jones books to my 7-year-old niece because Junie B. uses incorrect grammar and sometimes gets sassy with adults, as if merely exposing my niece to these concepts would trigger some kind of pre-teen linguistic rebellion.

I imagine Joan’s ideal kids’ book to be one in which the child protagonist cleans her room and finishes her homework with enough time to play a game of Yahtzee with her adoring grandmother before the girl’s bedtime at 6 p.m. There’s nothing offensive about such a story, but who’d want to read it? Same goes for Tanu Weds Manu.

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Opening February 25: Tanu Weds Manu

The Hindi romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu is set to open in two Chicago area theaters on February 25, 2011. R. Madhavan and Kangana Ranaut play the mismatched lead couple.

Tanu Weds Manu opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles and the AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. The film’s website has a national theater list. The movie has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 49 min.

Despite meager opening weekend earnings of $164,153 from just 65 U.S. theaters, 7 Khoon Maaf expands its reach as it enters its second week in theaters. The excellent black comedy carries over at the Golf Glen 5 and Regal Cantera Stadium 30 in Warrenville, debuting on Friday at the South Barrington 30 and AMC Loews Pipers Alley 4 in Chicago.

Patiala House gets a third week at the South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30.

These may be the only Hindi movies showing around Chicago for a while, so catch them while you can. The Cricket World Cup is underway, meaning that Indian production houses have dramatically cut back on releases until the tournament ends on April 2. Bollywood Hungama lists just three Hindi films with confirmed release dates in the whole month of March. (Update: 24 hours later, Bollywood Hungama changed their list to just one film with a release date in March. It’s gonna be a slow month.)

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Telugu movies Gaganam, Katha Screenplay Darsakatvam Appalaraju, Kudirithe Kappu Coffee, Life Before Wedding and Prema Kavali and the Bengali movie Gorosthanay Sabdhaan at the Golf Glen 5.

Movie Review: Teen Patti (2010)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Writer-director Leena Yadav claims that her film, Teen Patti, is not based on the movie 21. After watching Teen Patti, I don’t believe her.

21 is a 2008 Hollywood film about some MIT students who get rich counting cards in the game of blackjack. Teen Patti is about some students from “BIT” who get rich counting cards in the game of teen patti. Ms. Yadav’s lame anti-plagiarism defense: “My film has nothing to do with blackjack.”

In a failed attempt to avoid the comparison, Yadav shifts the focus of her film from the students to their professor, Venkat (Amitabh Bachchan). Venkat develops a mathematical formula for deducing which hand will win in a given game of teen patti, a card game similar to poker. He recruits his colleague, Shantanu (R. Madhavan), and three randomly selected students to help him test his formula under real-world conditions.

The experiment proceeds with Venkat sitting at a table in a seedy gambling hall while Shantanu and the students make obvious hand signals to indicate what cards they hold. Venkat stares at each of the other players at the table while mumbling to himself, and then makes an equally obvious gesture to indicate which player at the table holds the winning hand. Then Shantanu and the students nod to confirm that they understood Venkat’s gesture, just in case it wasn’t apparent to everyone else in the gambling den that they are up to something fishy.

I’m not going to bother naming the students because they aren’t fully developed characters, nor are they even necessary to the Venkat’s experiment. The primary reason that they’re in the movie is so that a mysterious blackmailer can threaten them, forcing Venkat to keep gambling when he’d rather stop.

The other reason for the students’ presence in the script is for them to illustrate the moral danger of gambling, which can lead to flirting, minor theft and fist fights. No drugs, booze or sex, apart from an implied gang rape (another shockingly casual reference to sexual violence against women in a Hindi movie, as in Wanted and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani). The stakes are pretty low in Teen Patti.

In addition to the superfluous students, minor characters show up without introduction and disappear abruptly. A woman named Mrs. Kale brings Venkat breakfast and complains about his messy office before leaving, never to appear again. Who is she?!

The prize for most useless character in Teen Patti goes to Perci Tractenberg, played by Sir Ben Kingsley for no other reason than to promote it as a Ben Kingsley movie. His presence would’ve been more impressive had Uwe Boll not already stunt-cast Kingsley as a villain in Bloodrayne.

*Teen Patti‘s runtime is 2 hrs. 20 min.