Synopsis – Soorma is the story of the triumph of the human spirit, about a player, who made headlines for his miraculous comeback after facing a near death experience through sheer determination, hard work and unrelenting passion for the sport.
My Take – Bollywood’s love for sports biopics continues with this week’s release. I think we all can accept that there is something about the blood, sweat, tears and toil poured into any sporting arena that holds out an impossibly irresistible allure that mirrors our own life’s struggles, in this case in a limited space, and for that you don’t have to be a sports buff to enjoy. Possibly this was one reason why Dangal was such a resounding success. Backed by Sony and talented actress Chitrangada Singh, here, director Shaad Ali’s latest film also hopes to take the same route by divulging us into the life of one of India’s most successful hockey players, Sandeep Singh.
Along with being an Arjuna awardee, Singh established a world record for the drag flick and was known for his expertise in the drag flick shot and the speed with which he sent the ball inside the net. However, what makes his life more inspirational than most is how his rise to the international circuit was interrupted by a freak accident. Nevertheless Singh came back from a potentially career-ending injury and went on to lead India to victory in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in 2009, and was part of the Indian team that qualified for the Olympics in 2012 after a drought. This is a story about a legend who rather than losing hope and giving up, decided to pick himself up, brush himself off, and continued moving with the hope to achieve his goals.
However, it is sad that the cinematic treatment of Singh’s story, which is both captivating and impactful, comes across as a classic example of how much Bollywood loves its cliché ridden films. The 131-minute tale works like a typical sports drama. It reflects the life of the protagonist at his highest and lowest, which is perhaps the reason why you can’t help but fall for it. Even though you know what would happen next, you’d watch it because you can’t say no to the high of feeling great and having your heart ripped out, yet perhaps it’s just me, but the underdog story seems to have been played too many times (that too in better ways) before.
The story follows Sandeep Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), a late bloomer resident of Shahabad, Haryana, who despite being interested in the game of hockey is put off by the obnoxious methods of his bully coach, Kartar Singh (Danish Hussain), leaving his older brother, Bikram (Angad Bedi) as the one marked out for glory. However, convinced by the fact that he can only impress Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu), a member of the female hockey team, by representing India on the field, he resumes training.
While Bikram fails to make it to the final round of selections, under the guidance of Coach Harry (Vijay Raaz), earns Sandeep his place in the Indian team, especially due to his ability to flick the ball off the ground and slam it with immense strength and speed at the goalpost. His signature move known as the drag flick, ensures that he becomes the highest goal scorer in his first international tournament, and earning him the nickname of “Flicker Singh”. However, a misfired weapon on his train journey to join the world cup squad puts a halt to his dream prematurely, making him realize everything doesn’t come easily.
Director Shaad Ali, who has unfortunately been on the downward slope since massive hits like Saathiya (2002) and Bunty Aur Babli (2005) with films like Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Kill Dil and OK Jaanu failing left and right, finds himself in a redeeming position here. This film being based on a true story, is massively inspirational. It has moments that restore faith in mankind and also moments which make you question about the state of sports other than cricket. Though the film has a very cut-and-dry style, as director Ali doesn’t waste much time on emotional scenes or linger on Singh’s rehabilitation, the 131 minutes run time felt just right. While the much of the first half feels quite ordinary as the film primarily focuses on Singh’s transformation from a carefree lover boy to a stern athlete because he wants to prove his worth to Harpreet and woo her, a theme recently done in the Ali Abbas Zafar directed Sultan starring Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma.
While the proceedings remain fun and easy, it’s in the second half where the film moves the action to Europe and back to the hockey field, everything becomes more lucid and gripping, moving the pain and strength of the characters, as the film progresses. It’s quite evident how the screenplay by Shaad Ali, Suyash Trivedi and Siva Ananth is designed to please, as it lets the audience find enough time to empathize with the protagonist and the characters around him, enjoy the thrill of field hockey and wait for the victory of India and an Indian hero. The film balances Sandeep’s individual achievements with the team effort that aids his push back. While the subject is compelling in itself, the way it is shown on screen is also interesting, in a way that not only you relate to the characters but also want them to win and succeed.
Of course, the goosebumps and edge-of-the-seat drama are missing at various points- an absolute requirement in such a genre, but the story overall makes you fall for the journey. Hence, the absence of adrenaline rush is compensated for. But for a major mass of the audience, this very thing will keep the film at a basic level, without getting high in their minds. Where the film scores the most is in the description of the emotional connect between two brothers. Their inseparable bond from childhood, to hockey fame, to a devastating accident on a train, and thence to Sandeep’s painfully slow rehabilitation in the game, is beautifully done. I also loved the way the whole scene where Sandeep is shot in the train has been captured, the scene that changes the tone of the film.
Therefore its disappointing to see how the film does not escape the clichés associated with the sports biopic genre, including a rousing background score, a grueling training session accompanied by a customary ‘inspirational’ song, the inclusion of emotion-heavy songs, occasionally corny lines, some subtle digs at hockey rival Pakistan in the match sequences, and a cardboard villain in the hockey federation. While I am not much of a sports buff myself, considering this is a film about a hockey player, the film scenes shot of the matches lack the style and the power of international games.
Here, the matches are reduced to scowling opponents and a flurry of goals, and Ali never bothers to get into the nitty-gritty of what makes Singh such a stand-out player. Also despite showing hockey in its elaborated form there is no moment in the game that would make you sit at the edge of the seat. Director Shaad Ali fails to create the cinematic drama that is necessary for telling a story of such kind. In comparison to a film like Chak De! India (2007), you are bound to miss the frenzy. Also the film refuses to divulge into the shattered mental state of Sandeep following his accident, and rather unfold quite quickly. Unlike the preceding well-handled scenes when he first realizes that his career may possibly have been destroyed by the cruel turn of events, his complete recovery in Holland is played out as a song plays in the background. To make matters worse, Harpreet in the second half suddenly becomes a spare wheel in Sunny’s tale, with motivations that come across as flimsy and somewhat stupid. The result is that the excitement is lost and the narrative becomes insipid.
Thankfully what holds the film together is the performance by Diljit Dosanjh, who as Sandeep Singh is perfect. Here, Dosanjh transforms himself from a petulant boy to a man who picks himself up after a life-shattering incident. The glint in his eye changes from impish to determined, and it is this that elevates the film from what would otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill sports film. Dosanjh is convincing in putting forth the anguish and pain of Sandeep after he was injured by a gunshot fired accidentally in 2006. He conveys his character’s emotions often without saying a word. The sequence wherein he hits himself after realizing his inability to live an independent life show his incredible ability to capture a sportsperson that the public only thought they knew.
Tapsee Pannu once again gives an impressive performance. Despite a reduced role in the second half, Pannu manages to leave a mark by looking good and performing ably throughout. Angad Bedi once again delivers a top notch act. Although he does fewer films, but in every passing film of his, he’s proving his growth, visibly. Among the smaller roles that stand out are Vijay Raaz as Sandeep’s crusty but soft-hearted coach, who also has some of the film’s best lines and Satish Kaushik, who as always is first rate, especially during the scenes where he mumbles. Kulbushan Kharbanda as a passionate federation head is also a treat to watch. On the whole, ‘Soorma’ is a fairly enjoyable sports drama which despite a few underwhelming factors is uplifted by Diljit Dosanjh‘s earnest performance.
Directed – Shaad Ali
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 131 minutes