Soorma review: Diljit Dosanjh ups his game!

Stories about sports icons are tailor-made for inspiration. The whole idea of succeeding against all odds commands glory and awe. Biopics draw on its vigour and hardship to create a powerful symbol of watch and learn.

But our movies have a tendency to bask in reflected glory instead of revealing the man behind the medals.

Shaad Ali’s Soorma, which tells the story of ace Indian hockey player Sandeep Singh and his phenomenal return to form after a bullet left him incapacitated, does not make that mistake.

There’s a hands-on approach in Diljit Dosanjh’s delivery as Singh that makes it easy to invest in his character’s remarkable real life and his dramatized depiction endearing.

Whether it’s his naiveté as a lad genuinely surprised to learn his bird-shooing action is a bonafide hockey move or amusing logic in persuading the coach to let him play despite an injury or hilarious embarrassment after coming down heavily at a kabbadi player, Dosanjh plays out various stages of Singh coming into his own with nuance and simplicity. 

Though far from perfect, Soorma benefits from the winsome appeal of its wonderful cast in telling a story that’s as much about starry-eyed romantics as it is about steel-willed resolution.

Set in a small town of Punjab where hockey is religion, Soorma centres on a young Singh’s renewed interest in the sport after sparks fly off between him and a pretty, plucky athlete, Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu is a combination of Singh’s wife and former girlfriend).

All flush and flirtations, the chemistry between these two is so sweet and substantial; the screen appears to have turned a shade of beetroot. Common local trainer and advocate of corporal punishment (a waspy Danish Hussain) grabs every chance to growl with disapproval.

Although he starts out playing purely to woo his ladylove, Singh’s naturally dazzling drag flicker quickly realises its star potential amidst impressed new teachers and hockey bigwigs. And so a delightful Vijay Raaz struts into the frame mouthing crowd-pleasing threats like, ‘Bihari hain hum, thookh ke maatha chhed kar denge‘ and Kulbhushan Kharbanda sounds like he’s waited all his life since Shaan to deliver his most badass line ‘Main hi federation hoon.’

The humour is abundant. So is the heart — in Taapsee’s trusty warmth, Angad Bedi’s solid turn as Singh’s big brother and Satish Kaushik’s simple-minded daddy bear. Often it lends Singh’s rise more meat than the cursory glance at his victories deemed worthy of exploring only when playing against an ever-hostile Pakistan.

I cannot claim to have much knowledge of the game. But Soorma takes it for granted you do.

If it has deep grudges about cricket hogging all the limelight, it only mildly expresses. If it resents the lack of medical care and respect accorded to hockey players, it only fleetingly complains.

Hockey isn’t particularly cinematic to watch. Chirantan Das’s flatly shot sequences are anything but breakthrough and fail to whip up any excitement.

The blandness would be a lot more glaring if not for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s pulsating soundtrack to Gulzar’s lively lyrics. The composer trio are masters of bucking your spirits up and Soorma‘s playlist reflects that amply.

The biopic hits some high notes right until mid point, especially its depiction of the ill-fated moment when an accidentally fired bullet in a train compartment pierced through Singh’s back and leaves him paralysed waist down for two years.

It’s a deftly shot moment that avoids the typical ominous set-up to bring out the casual, completely unexpected nature of the incident.

What comes across is far more horrific than deliberate drama.

The second half of Soorma wallows in heartbreak, pity and a drastic decline of fortunes until ‘Flicker Singh’ resolves to put an end to the humiliation and get back on his feet.

Too much dependence on songs, gratuitous drama and formulas negates a great deal of good that Shaad’s earlier impulses have accomplished.

But Diljit Dosanjh’s striking self-possession, like the champion he’s portraying, doesn’t let it come in the way of a performance that screams g-o-a-l.

Rating: 3

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp Review: Fast, fizzy, fun!

For a premise where the main guy can size-shift from ant to giant, the struggle is surprisingly real. No matter how fantastical the high jinks get, the people under the ultra-equipped suits are every bit flesh and blood. Throw in tons more of the genial vibe and cheerful humour that made the first Ant-Man moviesuch a lark and director Peyton Reed’s zappy sequel is the very definition of easy-peasy fun.

Following the superhero shenanigans in Captain America: Civil War, burglar-on-the-mend Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is only a few days away from a house arrest sentence coming to an end and starting life afresh.

Till then he has all the time in the world to stage elaborate play hunts and card tricks for his darling daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson is the right kind of cute).

Meanwhile, the other father-daughter duo — scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas swinging between cranky and know-all) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), also on FBI’s most-wanted, get Lang on board to bring back Pym’s long lost better half (a sparkling turn from Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.

If the first Ant Man played out like a heist, Ant Man and the Wasp is a fast and fizzy rescue movie doling out wacky action, lively 3D, old-fashioned romance, understated girl power and crazy size metaphors.

Truly amazing what a saltshaker can do when blown up to the size of a door in a standout kitchen brawl.

The women in Ant-Man and the Wasp — good or bad, young or old — are significant to the narrative and complement Rudd’s laidback charm with generous dose of dynamism. Especially Lily, her nimble daredevilry in a winged, well-deserved Wasp suit is as effective as her humanity outside it.

118 minutes go by in a blink as egoistic colleagues (always solid Laurence Fishburne), molecularly-imbalanced miscreants (Hannah John-Kamen shoots daggers by the dozen), goofy, 1980s-evoking villains (Walton Goggins grins away to glory) and pestering agents (hilarious Jimmy Woo) pop in to disturb the status quoin a script penned by Rudd, Chris McKenna, Eric Sommers, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari.

As Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most modest franchise, Ant-Man delivers on its promise of levity above spectacle.

There are lulls though.

All the quantum mumbo jumbo, prompting Lang to remark, ‘Do you guys just put quantum in front of everything?’ takes its license for farfetchedness a little too far.

While the titular superheroes get busy making a go of it, Ant Man‘s feel for wit and goodwill peppers the proceedings.

Most of it is a consequence of Lang’s delightful dependence on old pal Luis (Michael Peña). Peña continues his scene-stealing comedic streak along with a loony crew. Gags involving truth serums and Russian folklore figure Baba Yaga inject Ant-Man and the Wasp with such infectious merriment; the smile stays on long after you’ve left the theatre.

Rating: 3.5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super Filmi Week: More power to Sonali Bendre!

Sonali’s unrelenting spirit, Jai’s unacceptable loss, Ijaazat‘s timeless melancholy, Neetu Singh’s zing and not enough Sacred Games dominates my Super-Filmi Week

Monday
On Twitter, someone starts a conversation on cinematic deaths there’s simply no getting over.

Sholay‘s Jai is a no-brainer for me. It was voted as the most heart wrenching of Amitabh Bachchan’s on-screen death scenes by Rediff readers. I cannot bear to watch Ramesh Sippy’s 1975 classic the moment Jab Tak Hain Jaanstarts playing.

To begin with, the sight of Basanti spiraling on glass shards to keep a tied-up Veeru alive isn’t particularly pleasing. But when I first saw Sholay, I construed Jai’s rescue-ready swagger, immediately after Basanti collapses, as a sure-shot sign of a clean sweep for the heroes.

Also, how can a character with a love interest possibly die?

So imagine my horror when Jai sacrifices his life to keep Veeru and Basanti safe. It’s the one thing I can never conciliate with even after repeated viewings.

I wonder what it would be like if Sippy had actually gone ahead with his plans to reshoot the scenario to a happier one if Sholay‘s box office fortunes had not turned around overnight.

While it breaks my heart to watch Jai go, I am glad Sippy stuck to his vision. If it hurts, it touched the heart.

Tuesday
Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya completes 20 years today.

The outpour of affection for the raw, realistic, underworld drama and its best attributes like depiction of Mumbai’s gangster hell, Bhiku Mhatre’s blustering sass and unflinching violence proves somewhere deep down moviegoers still believe Varma will snap out of his self-destructive spell and deliver on his promise of groundbreaking cinema.

I am all for such optimism as long as it doesn’t look anything like Satya 2.

Wednesday
A day after Mumbai’s incessant rains cause an overbridge to come crashing down, the topic has invariably veered to the city’s unrelenting spirit.

Just then the shocking news of Sonali Bendre’s cancer diagnosis arrives.

It is depressing when active, affable and seemingly healthy people fall seriously sick. But the strong-willed tone of her note (‘I’m taking this battle head on’) and the twinkle of courage in her eyes makes me believe she’ll ride out the storm.

In one of the most popular songs of her career, Saawan Barse Tarse Dil, a radio favourite during monsoons, Sonali braves Mumbai’s heavy downpour and traffic to keep her date.

I don’t know about Mumbai’s, but more power to Sonali and her unrelenting spirit.

Thursday
There’s no romance in selfies. 

Can’t imagine anyone getting all googly-eyed over a digital snapshot. The idea had its merits only when characters burst into a song at the sight of their sweetheart’s physical photo.

In Khel, Madhuri Dixit surrounds herself with poster-sized portraits of Anil Kapoor as an inspiration to write him a love letter.

In Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahi, Pooja Bhatt and Aamir Khan play a game of ‘my sweetheart is better than yours’ over a picture.

In The Train, Nanda croons lovesick tributes to Rajesh Khanna’s black and white photograph.

In Hero, Meenakshi Seshadri sneaks in a photo of the man she loves under the man she’s slated to marry.

Swooning over photographs could be another addition to my Things We No Longer See in Hindi Movies.

Friday
Working on Neetu Singh’s 60th birthday special makes me realise how much I love her zing.

Neetu cannot brag of an extraordinary resume, National Award-winning turns or author-backed roles.

At 21, she said bye-bye to movies. And still, her delightful, full-of-beans gameness could give today’s shrewdly packaged and marketed youngsters a run for their money.

Bollywood needs her unpretentious soul to save itself from pretty-faced robots trained in where to look, what to wear and what to say.

Part of a star’s success story involved working on the rough edges and gaining polish along the journey.

Sometimes I miss the artlessness of yesteryear’s talent.

Saturday
The hugely hyped Vikramditya Motwane-Anurag Kashyap-directed mini-series Sacred Games has dropped on Netflix.

Two episodes down, I am impressed by its edgy tone, slick production values and smooth menace. Shame I cannot finish it one sitting.

If anyone wishes to enjoy its profane contents on the largest possible screen in complete privacy, it can be quite an uphill task when there’s just one television set in the house and your two-year-old nephew insists it’ll only play “naughty Donald Duck.”

Will revert with my opinion in the coming week.

Sunday
Gulzar’s Ijaazat released on this day in 1987.

I watched it in a theatre close to my house over the weekend. It was raining incessantly that day too.

A feeling of melancholy took over as I stepped out of the hall haunted by Rekha’s tears and Naseeruddin Shah’s regret.

I was a changed person.

Ijaazat is a sublime gem. Only Gulzar could have explained the complexities of the human condition with as much grace.

Sometime back when the author of Written By Salim-Javed: The Story Of Hindi Cinema’s Greatest Screenwriters interviewed me for his book, he wanted to know when was the first time I became conscious of the writer’s role in film-making.

Here’s what I told him, ‘I wasn’t even 10 when I watched Ijaazat on the big screen. And it’s amazing how Gulzar speaks to every age in the audience.’

‘I wasn’t the target audience for that film then. Still I could appreciate the moody ambience enveloping every single scene.’

‘The honesty and soul in the characters he wrote, their complexities, and compulsions. I loved how openly Naseer and Rekha talked; I loved how Naseer supported Anuradha Patel’s whimsy and Rekha’s extraordinary grace under the circumstances. I could sympathise with all the three.’

‘Subconsciously, Ijaazat taught me to not judge harshly.’

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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