Between that constant feeling of I've seen it all before and inability to balance comedy and darkness, Ludo wobbles towards its finish, sighs Sukanya Verma.
Chance and cunning can work in tandem but an unpredictable outcome is what lends any game its all-important thrill.
In Anurag Basu's Ludo, a motley bunch of players and their interlinked stories draw inspiration from the workings of a board game to colour its crime comedy in hues of whimsy and wickedness.
Like a smug sutradhar in possession of a remote control, a poorly disguised Basu shows up before the camera as well spewing gyaan on matters of fate and virtue to his Man Friday (Rahul Bagga) as they engage in a round of the said game.
If the unearthly hints about their identity aren't broad enough, Bhagwan pops up on a television screen mulling over the nature of shifting fortunes in Albela's Kismat ki hawa kabhi naram kabhi garam.
Cut to a creepily cackling naked guy and his abundant buff, which occupies every corner of the frame for what seems like eternity.
Make a fresh start, recommends Sattu Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi) and proceeds to hurl the guy heavenwards.
Before one can make head or tails about his move that unwittingly connects many others, Ludo has rolled its dice in multiple directions.
There's a PhD in Mongolian art in Mughal architecture (Aditya Roy Kapoor) working as a sales executive but studying to be a ventriloquist with half-bodied mannequins in underwear acting as planters.
On discovering a viral sex tape featuring him and his no-strings attached relationship (Sanya Malhotra), he contacts the latter who is busy prepping for her big fat wedding to some Mr Moneybags we don't have to, thankfully, worry about.
A Mithun Chakraborty obsessed dhaba runner (Rajkummar Rao) and occasional nautanki artist's childhood crush turned someone else's missus and mummy (Fatima Sana Shaikh) implores him to help her incriminated husband by procuring a testimony from the woman he was carrying on with.
But it's way harder than peddling Jallad Jalebi to your customers, he soon finds out.
Up next, there's the conscientious crook (Abhishek Bachchan) desperate to reunite with his estranged wife (Asha Negi) and daughter, which is only possible after he agrees to mock kidnap a precocious kid (Inayat Verma) who reminds him of her.
A pair of bullied mall worker (a constantly mopey Rohit Suresh Sarfar) and strictly Malayalam speaking nurse (Pearle Maaney) discovering a pile of money add to Ludo's curiouser and convoluted schemes.
Except Ludo is more busy than eventful, resulting in a uneven, scattered, mixed bag of a movie.
Basu's flair for idiosyncrasies has always stood him in good stead. Here too, the oddball responses, droll coincidences and wacky twists coupled with Pritam's lilting music are in good supply but rarely impactful.
Ludo appears too content and convinced of its humour, as if laughing at its own silliness but refusing to lend it context.
A cop is named Sukumar Sinha (you don't need a degree in botany to know who I am talking about) and that's that.
It's probably unintentional and that makes it even worse.
When Ludo does try, it tries a tad too much. And the staged quirk gets tedious after a point.
What with the deadpan gang working for Sattu Bhaiya, the genial nurse (a fine Shalini Vatsa) he bonds with, the pedestrian obviousness of some gags, wigs, catfights, et al or the commonplace criticism of government and media -- you'll see better wisecracking than this on social media.
While it's okay for any film-maker to expect suspension of disbelief -- telling stories in an alternate reality has become a Basu speciality following Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos -- his insistence on seeing everything through the prism of endearing goes overboard in Ludo.
The irresponsible abandon with which a ruffian and little girl hang out is especially queasy.
Between its general triteness -- that constant feeling of I've seen it all before -- and inability to balance comedy and darkness, Ludo wobbles towards its finish.
Despite these shortcomings, the actors exhibit visible enthusiasm for the material at hand.
Pankaj Tripathi's ever-ready chutzpah and arsenal of one-liners does best even though it's hardly novel territory for the man.
Rajkummar Rao's high-strung energy is pitch perfect for the excessive tone of the movie. It's a consciously in-your-face performance and while it may wear the viewer out, Rao stays true to character from start to finish.
Next to these two, Abhishek Bachchan's earnest growling and Aditya Roy Kapoor's unswerving nonchalance never have any real chance.
The girls do well. Sanya Malhotra's zesty air and Fatima Sana Shaikh's sly and coy turn are aptly tapped, but it's the enigmatic Pearle Maaney walking off with Ludo's most fascinating arc.
If only Ludo too would live up to the promise of its zany premise.
'Ludo is life. Life is Ludo,' spouts Basu in its opening scene.
The comparison may have sounded cool in his head, but it doesn't translate in the madcap movie he intended it to be.