Flick that never drags!

Mid Day - - HITLIST - MAYANK SHEKHAR mayank.shekhar@mid-day.com SOORMA U/A: Sports drama Dir: Shaad Ali Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Taapsee Pannu, An­gad Bedi

ONE way to look at this in­her­ently in­spi­ra­tional film on In­dian hockey’s ‘drag-flick’ wiz­ard, cap­tain San­deep Singh, is to in­evitably com­pare it to the crick­et­ing hero Ma­hen­dra Singh Dhoni’s biopic (2016). For, like Dhoni, Singh be­gan se­ri­ously play­ing the cho­sen sport rel­a­tively late in life.

And, much like Ranchi’s Mahi, loved for his in­ex­pli­ca­ble ‘he­li­copter shot’, ‘Flicker Singh’ from Sha­habad in Haryana took nat­u­rally to the game, like fish to water — coach­ing and tech­nique there­after only honing his in­trin­sic tal­ent/craft, chiefly with drag­ging the hockey ball on the rough sur­face first (syn­thetic turf later), and flick­ing it with in­tense force to­wards the goal post.

Also, as is true for all sports­peo­ple, it takes ded­i­cated, gen­er­ous men­tors, some­times a whole vil­lage/school/col­lege/mo­halla, to raise a cham­pion. Singh has that in an adorable brother (played by An­gad Bedi: fi­nally find­ing screen-time equiv­a­lent to his fine act­ing chops). There’s also the son-of-the-soil, slightly ec­cen­tric sorta coach (Vi­jay Raaz, killing it not-so-softly, with his swag).

Here’s why Mahi may still be a wrong win­dow through which to look at this film though. Firstly, be­cause cricket is not field-hockey (at least not in In­dia any­more). Even as Singh in blue-jer­sey makes it as a star-player, top-scorer in the na­tional team, for in­stance, he takes a rick­ety ST (state trans­port) bus back home.

And while ev­ery­one knows all there’s to know about MSD, I’m not sure how many non-sports fans have even heard of San­deep Singh, which makes his deeply com­pelling story, from only about a decade ago, smartly com­pressed into 130 min­utes, as much an eye-opener, as uni­formly en­gag­ing. Helps that the flick doesn’t drag even for a sec!

Sure, this is a film on In­dian hockey, and Shimit Amin’s Chak De! In­dia (2006) does come to mind, al­though scales don’t match. This is a much smaller pic, so to say, and I mean this by way of the size of the sta­dia, rather than sen­ti­ment, heart, or emo­tions. Ei­ther way, a film like this can do more for sport than state-funded fed­er­a­tions, for­ever. Look what a TV chan­nel could man­age with kab­badi, for ex­am­ple.

In the mid­dle of this khet/dusty field is Diljit Dosanjh as San­deep Singh — oddly enough the first Sar­dar super-star in Bol­ly­wood, which has oth­er­wise been dom­i­nated by first/sec­ond/third gen­er­a­tion Pun­jabis for decades. There is a dis­arm­ing charm, child-like in­no­cence that Dosanjh brings to his char­ac­ter, go­ing through se­ri­ous ups and downs, drib­bling through life’s mul­ti­ple ob­sta­cles, be­fore reach­ing his fi­nal goal, which, like many ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­tives, es­sen­tially starts with him try­ing to im­press the love of his life (an equally im­pres­sive Taapsee Pannu).

That supreme love and re­spect he has in his eyes for her is what the film­mak­ers have for him. You can see it, or even hear it with Shankar-Eh­saan-Loy’s gooey, lilt­ing back­ground score. Over a ca­reer span­ning a decade-and-half plus, di­rec­tor Shaad Ali has mainly os­cil­lated be­tween ro­mances (Saathiya, OK Jaanu) and ca­pers set al­most in an al­ter­nate world (Bunty Aur Babli; and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Kill Dil: both in their own uniquely zany zones).

With Soorma, Ali con­fi­dently gets to the cen­tre, keeps his im­pulses un­der check, and plays it to­tally nar­row, and fully straight. And, yes, he hits home, alright. This is pos­si­bly his best work yet.

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