Director Leena Yadav creates a stir by bringing Ben Kingsley and Amitabh Bachchan together in “Teen Patti”.
It's not a tussle between the iconic Big B and the legendary BK (Ben Kingsley) — two stalwarts in one film vying for space. It's about the mathematics of life and knowledge. “Teen Patti”, synonymous in India with the game of cards, is a smart game of life introduced through smart actors. The film releases this Friday.
Five years after her failed debut film “Shabd” released in 2005, director Leena Yadav assures us this time, she has “made no mistakes”.
Leena, considered a far thinking director in the industry (she dared to introduce an unusual script in “Shabd”), has been working with her writer Shiv Subramanyam for two years on this film.
“Teen Patti”, she explains, is about a mathematics genius (Amitabh Bachchan) who feels he hasn't got his due at his university. Trying to prove his worth, he discovers a mathematical key to winning in gambling. Kingsley plays another mathematics genius, whom he admires.
Gambling apparently forms the crux of the film, but Leena counters. “Gambling plays only the backdrop to take the human drama forward. It's about the choices we make in life. In our daily lives we all indulge in mini gambles as a shortcut to success. The film only reemphasises that through an emotional route.”
A Delhi University alumna, Leena is known for bringing together unusual combinations of actors — earlier it was Aishwarya Rai, Zayad Khan and Sanjay Dutt in “Shabd”, and now, Kingsley and Bachchan. She has her reasons. “I chose Sir Ben for three reasons: we needed a British actor to play Perci, for his ‘enigmatic' look, an interesting history behind him and his connection with India. In Bollywood, only Big B could match the depth and charisma Sir Ben has.”
This former assistant director of famous serials “Surabhi” and “Chandrakanta” that hooked viewers of the 1980s to television says working with professional actors has its own advantages. “When you work with professional actors like Sir Ben and Big B, you can put to rest some of the nuisance that comes as baggage with certain ‘stars'. They are like trees laden with fruits — humane and yielding. They have no feeling of insecurity, they respected and admired each other and at the same time, treated their junior actors as equals.”
As a director, Leena left them free. “I let them interpret the scene in their own ways. For instance, I didn't restrict Sir Ben and Mr. Bachchan to use their space in the film as it was written in the script. They could move, sit, stand or utilise their space as they felt comfortable. While discussing a particular scene too, there were no ‘instructions' but ‘exchanges' on the sets.”
Interestingly, Leena's interpretation of the film's script didn't match Kingsley's. “When we met, I found he had interpreted it absolutely differently. But he humbled me saying he trusted my idea and would go with my interpretation. It only led to more responsibility as a director.” In Mumbai, Bachchan “broke the ice” by involving all the actors during discussions.
Though seemingly Bachchan has a bigger role, Leena insists a role should be judged by power, not length. “My primary actors are five. Sir Ben is very important to the plot. He is not just in and out of the film though the story might follow one actor,” she clarifies.
Shot in 70 days in Flame University in Pune, a casino in London, a broken shipyard, mill backyards and abandoned parts of railways stations around Mumbai, “Teen Patti” also engages Leena's husband Aseem Bajaj as the director of photography, Hollywood's Huges Winborne as the editor, and Armin Sauer, responsible for most Bond films, as action director. She recalls, “We had a very tight schedule in London. People think that Bollywood works in very unorganised ways but following our shooting in London, I would say we are no less organised than Hollywood.”
Denying any inspiration from Robert Luketic's film “21”, Leena also clarifies that her film doesn't have cameos of Hollywood actors like Richard Gere, Pierce Brosnan, etc. as the rumours go, but some Bollywood friends like Jackie Shroff, Tinu Anand, etc., have a small part,” she concludes.