What is the story about?
Vitthal Tripathi lives with his father Tribhuvandas and sister Vandana in a village in the Gir region of Gujarat. A devout worshipper of Lord Mahadev, Vitthal has a gift for playing cards. The series shows how, in the face of his humble origins and the innumerable challenges thrown by life, Vitthal slowly makes a name for himself as the accomplished gambler "Vitthal Teedi".
The great Frank Capra had once said that the cardinal sin of filmmaking was "dullness". You can write the most predictable story, but if your audience can connect with your narrative, all sins are forgiven. Director Abhishek Jain knows his audience like the back of his hand. His first two films Kevi Rite Jaish and Bey Yaar were new-age family dramas that gave a fresh lease of life to Gujarati cinema a few years ago, and, in that sense, even with a change of medium, Jain decides to stick to his comfort zone. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
It would not be wrong to think of Vitthal Teedi: Chapter 1 as a full-blown melodramatic potboiler belonging to the 1980s. You know the narrative beats: a small-time gambler is forced by financial hardships and the love of his family to immerse himself in the world of cards. But Jain and his writer-lyricist Bhargav Purohit take inspiration from Mukesh Sojitra's short story and build a lived-in world around Vitthal that feels authentic and true to the 1980s. The village where Vitthal spends his days is portrayed with a lot of simplicity. If there's a scene where Vitthal asks a tailor to design a jacket for him that is modelled after one worn by Amitabh Bachchan, there are also scenes which show that the only thin Vitthal lives for, apart from cards, is his family. The card sequences crackle with tension and fast cuts, and if Vitthal's prowess for card-playing is at the heart of this story, there's also an episode that reminds you of the ability of gambling to crush lives. Above all, the series keeps the Tripathi family as its focus. Vitthal's relationships with his father and sister, and even his strained relationship with his elder brother Pramod, is dealt with, and even his friendships with Jagdish and Kanu Datti receive a lot of breathing space.
This series is a potboiler that might not offer anything new in its story, but Jain and Purohit focus on telling it right without any embellishment or extra flourish, and I can vouch that the last 15 minutes of the season finale will keep you engrossed. With the promise of the next chapter, I really want to see what Vitthal does next.
It is the Pratik Gandhi show all the way. Fresh from the success of Scam 1992, Gandhi is assured as Viithal, portraying him with a carefully-crafted mixture of cockiness and vulnerability that never devolves into arrogance. Ragi Jani is the find of the season, bringing a certain dignity and pathos to the character of Tribhuvandas. Brinda Trivedi is decent as Vandana, who is essentially an emotional rock to Vitthal. Prem Gadhavi is terrific as the scene-stealing gambler Kanu Datti, who shares a warm friendship with Vitthal and introduces him to the big league. Jagjeetsinh Vadher is alright as Jagdish, Vitthal's childhood friend. Shraddha Dangar has a charming cameo as Manisha, who Vitthal has a soft corner for.
Music & Other Departments
The care with which Sheel Thakore pulls off the 1980s look in his art direction is noteworthy, and to be fair, his work does a lot of heavy lifting in the show. Tapan Vyas' cinematography is awash with yellowed hues, conveying the sepia-tinted narrative perfectly in tandem with Hiren Chitroda's editing. The score by Kedar-Bhargav is suitably bombastic in the card sequences, though one wishes they had toned down the instruments in the dramatic portions. Aditya Gadhvi's vocals in Vitthal Vitthal bring a fervent energy to the narrative.
The production design is done with a lot of care, and it shows in every frame. Also, the card sequences in the finale bristle with tension.
The predictability of the story never goes away, even with the earnestness that Jain and Purohit bring to the narrative. In fact, you can guess from a mile away how a number of sequences will eventually pan out.
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?
Yes. In spite of its predictability, this show deserves to be watched for Gandhi's performance and for the way Jain builds up a crackling narrative.