There’s no questioning the fact that Bollywood movies revolve around dramatic plots, even more dramatic staging and big, big stars. And, while there are plenty of romances and melodramas hitting the screens every year, one sub-genre that seems more than overdue for revival is the gambling movie. There have been quite a few great examples in the past – and we’ll get on to them in a little while – but none for the last few years. It’s certainly not because the audience has lost its appetite for excitement and action – you just need to look at some of the most hotly-anticipated films for 2020 to see that – and it’s definitely not because the gambling genre is one that’s out of fashion generally.
Over in Hollywood, they’re still producing big box-office hits with a gambling theme, as demonstrated by 2018’s Molly’s Game, a thrilling true-life tale starring Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, a famous organiser of poker parties for real-life stars said to have included Matt Damon and Leonardo Di Caprio. Although the precise plot details are being kept tightly under wraps, it’s also almost certain that the next James Bond slated for release in November, No Time To Die, will feature a casino scene or two. Whether these will match up to the thrilling encounters that our hero experiences in both Casino Royale and Skyfall, we’ll just have to wait and see.
The thrill of the game
Of course, casinos and gambling, in general, make for the perfect backdrop for the action in a film. Not only does it introduce an element of excitement as we vicariously share in the hero or heroine’s experiences, it also introduces the potential for tension and conflict. This may either be between characters in the film as they try to outwit each other, or simply the situation that the character finds himself, or herself, facing. It all adds up to the fact that gambling makes for the ideal ingredient in a Bollywood thriller.
Then there’s the Indian public’s interest in gambling itself. As an example, online casinos have grown immensely in popularity since the release of some of the original gambling-inspired Bollywood flicks, and has consequently seen the entertainment market completely evolve because of it. For example, the introduction of comparison sites that help players identify and review the best online casinos illustrates that the casino industry, as a whole, is much more accessible and, therefore, popular with the wider public. Because of this, it would be interesting to see what Bollywood would have to offer in terms of a new gambling movie, in this new era of the casino.
The hits of the past
Take perhaps the most famous of all Bollywood gambling films as an example. In the 2010 film Teen Patti, it told the story of a mathematics professor who used his knowledge of the laws of probability to devise a winning strategy for the card game which gave the film its title. It’s loosely based on the Hollywood film 21, which was about a group of Harvard students who did the same thing, and has an all-star cast that features not only Amitabh Yadav, R. Madhavan, Raima Sen, and Shradha Kapoor but also Sir Ben Kingsley who, back in 1983, won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi.
Two years before Teen Patti was released, audiences had been transfixed by the exploits of Emraan Hashmi playing Arjun in the gambling thriller Jannat. In fact, it was this film that set Hashmi on his route to stardom with reviews singling him out as the lynchpin of the film. The fact that it combined the gambling exploits of our hero with a love story featuring Sonal Chauhan, added to the box office appeal. Then, to seal the deal, there was a killer soundtrack with songs from K.K., Rupam Islam, and Richa Sharma.
The third in the “big three” of Bollywood gambling movies to date is also the oldest. 1971 saw the release of Gambler starring Dev Anand as Raja. The plot revolves around the orphaned Raja and his relationship with a character known only as Master who has taught him how to play cards. When Master is found dead he is wrongly accused of the murder and, in the ensuing trial, the true details of the accused’s life emerge. With the added plotline of a romance between Raja and Chandra Gangaram, played by Zaheeda, it’s a film that can be said to contain a little bit of everything.
Place your bets on what the future holds
So, with films like these three forming the heritage of gambling movies in India, surely it’s time for a creative writer and director to get together to continue the tradition. Ideas for a crossover title could even feature another great Indian interest – cricket. With sports betting also very popular, this has the makings of a great movie to draw in several different audiences. Whether it actually happens, we’ll have to wait and see. But if it does, we predict it’s going to knock audiences for six.