A sports political drama that exposes the caste politics behind selection of suitable candidates, this one has its heart in the right place. Coming from Anurag Kashyap, the maker of edgy dark cinema, this one sheds more light than darkness on the sport of Boxing, played the corrupt Indian way. The narrative, set largely in Bareilly gives us a socio-cultural perspective of the internecine rivalry (which has little to do with ability or skill) that goes into the making of a sporting hero in the peculiar Indian context.
For those addicted to commercial Hindi cinema this may seem like a downgraded Sultan but it’s not really so. This film is far sharper focussed and brings out all the warts that afflict Indian sports (which Sultan – a love story set in the wrestlers akhada, conveniently glossed over).
A sort of novelty in the Indian context, this film about a Boxer who fights the system with his lady love by his side, is no masterpiece but it’s also not the regular Bollywood masala film. This one is a tempered melodrama fashioned around the good versus evil theme while exploring the courage and conviction of its protagonist with over-emphasised empathy and understanding.
Here Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh) the titular hero locks eyes with Sunaina (debutante Zoya Hussain) and ends up getting into a fight with her uncle who also happens to be his coach, Bhagwan Das (Jimmy Shergill). Das has the clout and the personality to reign vindictiveness on anyone who crosses him and Shravan finds himself at the receiving end here.
Shravan’s passion for the sport takes him to a level where he is being noticed but Das is out to get him and the rest of the film is about the underdog outwitting and outsmarting his arch enemy by using his skill in the sport (which is his biggest strength) and never say die spirit, to the best of his advantage.
Kashyap’s film while also a passionate love story with a strong female character, seeks to make a sideways commentary on parental obsession with education, allowing for his hero to deliver a verbal knock out while outlining his idea of what should instead become of primary importance for parents. Shravan’s everyman struggles are portrayed with asperity while his bonding with coach Santosh Kumar (Ravi Kissen), the lifeline that allows him the space and technique to grow into a true sportsman, packs a strong emotional wallop.
The opening sequence is a sort of political statement of the times – a man being beaten up to the tune of Jai Shree Ram while being berated as a cow trader – is perhaps Kashyap’s shot at making a point against mob violence fostered by upper castes who use religion to beat the lower echelons into submission.
From thereon, Anurag Kashyap sets the pace quite well using the human drama to shadow box with Shravan’s struggles to achieve ascendancy in the boxing arena. Of course, Kashyap’s trademark violence is exhibited with the usual flare given the villain is more than ready to put his fists where his mouth is. Since this is also a romance, Kashyap plies on the typical romantic tropes as well. Thankfully that doesn’t take anything away from the strong impact this film has.
The lead performances are the highlight of the film. Vineet Kumar’s sincerity, Zoya Hussain’s confidence, Jimmy Sher Gill’s villainy and Ravi Kissen’s mentorship help make the drama more relatable.
The scale here is much larger than life than Anurag Kashyap’s regular meter. Even though convenience also makes its ugly appearance and contrivance takes centre-stage towards the finale, this one will be better remembered as a punchy romance- a guts and glory salvo that has its heart in the right place even while seeking to attract a respectable audience. It may not be as edgy or dark as Kashyap has hitherto perfected, but it’s definitely fiercer and allows for a much easier acceptance from the general cinema going audience.
Cast: Rajesh Tailang, ShreedharDubey, ZoyaHussain
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: * * *