The Telegraph
Saturday , January 5 , 2013
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Rajeev’s race to survive

How far would you go to see five times the Kaun Banega Crorepati jackpot make its way into your bank account? Would you put love and loyalty, relationship and respect, and ultimately your life, on the line at the prospect of big money?

Table No 21 explores the machinations of the human mind even as it weaves a compelling tale of lies and deceit, money and mind-games that keeps you riveted for a large part but stops well short of being a consummate thriller.

Starting off as a romance, Table No 21 has Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and Siyaa (Tena Desae) taking off to Fiji on their fifth wedding anniversary, courtesy an all-expenses-paid trip won through a lucky draw. But there are no free lunches in this world. A week’s stay in an expensive chalet and carefree romps on the beach later, Sach Ka Saamna host Rajeev faces his own moment of truth when the couple are given the choice to crown their perfect holiday with a chance to win Rs 21 crore!

The task? To answer eight questions truthfully and perform as many tasks diligently. The catch? It’s truth or death; “If you lie, you die,” says Khan (Paresh Rawal), the brain behind the purported reality show, beamed to eight million viewers across the world.

Table No 21 starts off intelligently, the double-edged questions building the suspense. The tasks are intriguing and engaging. From kissing passionately in the middle of a busy thoroughfare and holding down non-vegetarian food to giving up one’s blood in exchange for the other’s freedom and ultimately killing to save their own lives, the tasks get scarier as the stakes are upped.

There are no exit points; what starts off as a fun game soon becomes a deadly quagmire, as much of their own making as it is of the man who manipulates them. The two are forced to confront their deepest fears and reveal their darkest secrets even as their lives are on the line.

Table No 21 works — particularly in the first half — because it manages to keep the narrative clutter-free and designs the intrigue in a ‘what next?’ format. Director Aditya Datt — with turkeys like Dil Diya Hai and Aashiq Banaya Aapne on his CV — keeps the interest alive even post-interval, but Table No 21 never really becomes the edge-of-the-seat thriller that its initial reels promised.

The film also lacks the nervous urgency that a cat-and-mouse game of death should have had. The good work is also almost wholly undone in the extended climax, the predictable twist at the end proving to be a major downer.

A film with just three principal characters needed its acting to be of a high standard and Table No 21 doesn’t disappoint on that count. Paresh Rawal does justice to the deliciously evil Khan and you can’t help but smile when he probes the lead pair for juicy details of their relationship and then gleefully exclaims, ‘Oh I am such a gossip girl!’ Rajeev Khandelwal slips into a role that has shades of the one he played in his debut film Aamir and once again reminds us why we need to see much more of him. Tena Desae looks like a billion bucks — teeny-weeny bikini to halter gowns — and shows good screen presence. The chemistry between the lead pair is sizzling in the Mann mera track, but the kiss — as part of a task — seems a tad mechanical.

A special mention for Ravi Walia’s lens that beautifully captures the virgin sun-kissed beaches of Fiji.

With a sparse movie menu at multiplexes, Table No 21 may not be a bad option for a one-time watch. A major plus? Its 108-minute-only running time.

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