‘Table No. 21’ might just be director Aditya Datt’s ticket to fame: fame of the pure, unadulterated kinds. His earlier outings as a director – films such as ‘Aashiq Banaya Aapne’, ‘Dil Diya Hai’ and ‘Good Luck!’ – weren’t able to make much of an impact on either the audience or critics. However, with this film, Datt has undone all of his earlier lukewarm ventures, one might say. With a script that smells of fresh dew on grass, deals with an issue that is way more grave and at the end of the day, blends together an entire gamut of emotions from rage to sorrow, director Aditya Datt has carved to perfection a story that could have gone miserably haywire had it been dealt with in any different manner. Happily for all of us, the film steers clear of all of that.
The film has the elements of thrill – intense at the lower end of the spectrum and spine-chilling at the higher. It cleverly, beautifully builds up a story, goes forth strewing numerous hints during its course and all of them are marvellously tied together in the end. No loose end acts as an impediment in the script – and every single moment makes sense.
Vivaan (Rajeev Khandelwal) and Siya (Tena Desae) Agasthi are a couple who, when the film begins, are on cloud nine. They are on board a flight to the Fiji Islands – a holiday which the lady has won. The exotic seascape of Fiji combined with the extraordinarily mesmerising locales make for a visionary treat. The couple enjoy their vacation and on their fifth wedding anniversary, are greeted by a bouquet of surprises – from Khan (Paresh Rawal), the owner of the resort where Vivaan and Siya have been staying.
Khan comes across as a congenial host in the beginning, only to deliver the sinister, downright scary side of himself later on in the film. Khan presents the couple with a unique offer – he asks them to participate in a one-of-a-kind game which consists of eight questions, a task after each question and a prize money of 21 crores for the winners. The game is watched by millions of viewers on Khan’s website, thereby making it a game played – and enjoyed – in front of eight million pairs of voyeuristic eyes. The smooth beginning of the game slowly transforms into a frightening nightmare and Vivaan and Siya see themselves falling defenceless, bit by bit, down into the abyss of Khan’s diabolical game.
In a game, only rules exist. Every single time the semi-bald, cunning Khan opens his mouth, Rawal delivers a finesse which probably only he could have done. Comedy is Paresh Rawal’s forte, undoubtedly. But give him a role as dark and devilish as this one, and he performs it with remarkable élan. Rawal is a brilliant actor, a superbly versatile one, and his creepy avatar of Khan is another powerful negative character to have come out of the villains’ stable of Bollywood in recent times. Just that by the end of the film, one is left with a gasp. Datt’s story tears to shreds the stereotypes of good and bad, brutally smashes the watertight compartments of ethics and morality, and ruthlessly drives his point home.
Playing along with the brilliant story is an earnest, skilful Rajeev Khandelwal. From his ‘Kahiin To Hoga’ days to ‘Table No. 21’, through ‘Aamir’ and ‘Shaitan’, Khandelwal has taken himself higher up the performance ladder. In this film, Rajeev has proven, yet again, the limit to which his acting skills reach, which – no doubts about that – is the sky. The unemployed, frustrated-at-times, doting husband with many shades of grey, Rajeev’s Vivaan is a character that doesn’t fall short of performing perfection on screen, at any point whatsoever.
Tena Desae, on the other hand, is perhaps the only dampening factor in the film. As far as acting is concerned, she does a sort of decent job of playing Siya, Vivaan’s financially independent wife who plays the part of the conventional ‘man’, earning bucks for the family. However, Desae could have done better by letting go of her utterly horrible accent. Her dialogue delivery might just have been better that way.
Gajendra Verma’s music is soulful and the background score blends well with the story. The song ‘Mann Mera’ is a hummable one and stays on in the mind. The film doesn’t have many songs, and that is another plus point. For in thrillers like ‘Table No. 21’, an abundance of songs does more harm than good.
In a nutshell, ‘Table No. 21’ might just be one film that is instrumental in turning the tables of the game around. In the Hindi film industry of the day, where a lot of mindless stuff is churned out under the guise of ‘films’ every year, Datt’s thriller is one that is a welcome break. Go watch the film. It is worth every penny spent, worth every ounce of energy invested – and even more.