A technically slick entertainment set in the world of grifters, “Bluffmaster!” doesn’t quite pull off the big game it aspires to. Blame that on a smooth but emotionally cold perf by star Abhishek Bachchan, who, like the movie, has all the moves down but keeps the audience shut out emotionally. Tight running time ensures pic has few dull patches, supporting perfs are well etched, and a monstrous final twist deserves some kind of prize for sheer gall. But the Dec. 16 release looks to bamboozle only mild biz, especially beyond metros.
Roy Kapoor (Bachchan), first seen conning a bundle from a gullible movie producer, is a professional grifter who’s kept his profession a secret from his g.f., Simmi Ahuja (Priyanka Chopra). When she finds out, midway through her engagement party, she summarily dumps him.
Six months later, an amateur con artist, Dittu (Riteish Deshmukh), tries to pull a stunt on Roy when they’re trapped in an elevator, but Roy sees him coming a mile off. Dittu later tries the same on a middle-aged guy, Dr. Bhalerao (Boman Irani), but Roy again intervenes, and Dittu’s partner is arrested.
As Simmi still won’t take him back, Roy reluctantly agrees to take the excitable Dittu on as a pupil. When he learns from the doc that he has only three months to live, due to a brain tumor, Roy decides to go for broke — taking thuggish gangster and master con man Chandru (Nana Patekar) to the cleaners in a particularly complex scam.
With its sleek styling — boppy dance numbers, plentiful use of split-screen and invisible wipes, and modern urban characters — pic is the flipside to director Rohan Sippy’s debut feature, “Kuch naa kaho” (2003), a more traditional romantic comedy unfairly dumped on by most Indian critics. Aside from its detailed character direction — also replicated here — that movie’s ace card was the onscreen chemistry between leads Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, both at their most relaxed.
However, in “Bluffmaster!”, Bachchan (son of megastar Amitabh) is the pic’s biggest liability: There’s no real chemistry between him and Deshmukh to make their master-pupil relationship work, and not much more between him and Chopra to make the scenes of him begging her for a second chance chime emotionally.
Still, individual sequences of Roy & Co. at work are entertaining enough: the initial elevator encounter with Dittu, a credit-card scam Roy improvises on the spot, and later scenes between Roy and the psychotic Chandru. Lengthy coda, explaining the final mega-twist, leaves enough time for viewers to retrieve their jaws off the floor.
Four musical numbers — plus one during the final crawl directed by ace choreographer Farah Khan — are pacey, and two of them surprise by being interrupted by plot developments before they end. Both Irani and Patekar are very good as the doctor and gangster, and the ever-stylish Chopra makes the most of a basically standard g.f. role.