Director: Abhishek Jain
Cast: Pratik Gandhi, Ragi Jani, Prashant Barot, Prem Gadhvi, Brinda Trivedi, Jagjeetsinh Vadher, Vishal Thakkar
I grew up on vintage masala potboilers and stylishly-executed crime dramas from the Hindi film industry. In the 70s and 80s specifically, Amitabh Bachchan, with his classic roles in Deewar and Agneepath, shaped the idea of the quintessential conman with a golden heart and a tragic childhood.
Vitthal Teedi begins on a similar note, instantly taking you back to the world of catchy yet dramatic background scores, street-smart dialogues and slow-motion romance sequences. A lot like the Bachchan films mentioned above, this Gujarati series too, starts with a retelling of a young Vitthal’s (Vishal Thakkar) background story, his childhood trauma, and how Teedi, or in card/teen patti terminology, the three of hearts, becomes his nickname. As the latter suggests, Vitthal, from a very young age, is fascinated with cards. His father, a man he grows up idolizing, is a wizard of the game himself, having lost to no one in his village before. Vitthal takes inspiration from his style of play, and grows up to become a maestro himself.
There are some interesting frames that are smartly woven in by the cinematographer, that suggest young Vitthal’s deep inclination towards cards. In a dream sequence, where he sees himself interacting with his childhood sweetheart, you notice a queen of hearts card placed in the background. You can’t help but applaud the cutesy suggestiveness.
The grown-up Vitthal (Pratik Gandhi), is edgier, mature… and virtuous. His love for playing cards has now taken shape, and he now not only earns but pretty much makes a living out of his gambling prowess. His personal life now revolves around his family, comprising his father, elder sister and an absent elder brother. However, the centerstage is commanded solely by Vitthal. He puts his family over his own needs and desires.
That, somehow, ends up being a justification for his gambling. This is where the plot gets stuck. As the story moves ahead, it suffers because of the lack of plot points. In fact, there are several loose-ends in the narrative which hamper the screenplay further. The romantic angle, which provided some sweet, filmy, hair-flying-in-the-air moments, finds an abrupt conclusion in a lackadaisical one-line narration from the protagonist. Similarly, there is a small scene shadowing caste politics – still heavily prevalent in rural India – which is yet again left hanging in the air, finding no mention going forward. The second half of the six-episode series is slower than expected, and at times, utterly predictable too – including the climax.
But what keeps their boat afloat is a solid performance by Pratik Gandhi. He is the backbone of the story, appearing in almost every shot post the first episode. His controlled emotions, easy charm and effective-but-unforced dialogue delivery reminds you why Scam 1992 worked as well as it did. He keeps the story going, even when the story isn’t going anywhere.
There are certain things that work well for the show, especially in the first four episodes. It has one of the most creative time leap sequences in recent times, where director Abhishek Jain uses a long-haired man wearing a bandana, clad in a Mithun-esque polka dotted shirt and coloured pants, playing the song ‘Raat Ke Barah Baje’ from Mujrim (1989). Special props to composers Kedar and Bhargav for setting the masala potboiler tone perfectly with their background score.
The series is entertaining in some parts and lacklustre in others. It is likely to be back with a second season, and hopefully next time around the makers will focus more on a tighter script. Pratik’s spot-on performance deserves that.
You can stream Vitthal Teedi on OHO Gujarati