Director: Shaad Ali
Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Taapsee Pannu, Angad Bedi, Vijay Raaz
It is Bollywood Wars: Attack of the Biopics. Sanju is still churning out think pieces faster than it is making money, which it is making by the truck loads, and we already have another one in our hands. Soorma, directed by Shaad Ali, curiously out of his mentor Mani Ratnam’s shadow, is the story of Indian field hockey player, Sandeep Singh. Singh’s story is made for the screen considering he was bookmarked a future hockey star before experiencing a freak gun accident on a train journey that paralysed him below the waist. Diljit Dosanjh plays Sandeep Singh the way Dosanjh plays any character, with an innocent charm forever sparkling in his eyes, as if he is a kid who is gifted a present every time people cast their eyes on him. Sandeep Singh is treated like that by his family, a small but content one, ready to accept his resignation from hockey as a kid when he is not too keen with his coach’s cruel methods.
Ali sets up Sandeep Singh as someone who is more in love with the idea of hockey as a means than the game itself. Singh is quick to fall in love with fellow hockey player Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu) and, at first, that is what drives him back to hockey. When her father, the coach, and brother give him an ultimatum, he is quick to latch on to it as an opportunity to succeed. Singh is written as a loose cannon, who is quick to fall for a wager, quick to take up anything to prove his point, and quick to anger. When he is told by his elder brother that he has an eye for the drag flicks, Singh is ecstatic to the point that his confidence has no limits.
Vijay Raaz as the India coach has a little bit of fun with his part, mouthing off for good measure as the journeyman who trusts individuals but has long given up on the Indian system to work. For a biopic that is about the sheer will of an individual, Soorma is remarkably subtle in parts. Ali probably chose to have it that way because, as repeated in one scene, hockey is not cricket. There is no spectacle associated with hockey. So, when Singh returns from Poland with the highest number of goals and a fancy moniker, there isn’t a crowd in the airport. There is one father-and-son pair claiming to be fans and some reporters with cameras who aren’t trying all that hard. Singh and his father (Satish Kaushik) take a bus from the airport back to Shahabad, like they are returning after a wedding in the city.
At times, the stakes don’t feel so high with Ali not going for the cinematic. Things are presented in routine fashion and Ali even does throwbacks to events, as if to remind you and help you understand the significance of the current scene. Like when Singh returns from rehabilitation and re-establishes the relationship with his brother. We hear the dialogue from a previous scene, spoken like bullets to the heart. Ali does portend the scene involving actual bullets. In Sandeep Singh’s junior hockey days, we see the threat of gun violence during a Meerut vs Patiala match. The gun though goes off in a different scene before the intermission, but we see it coming because Ali doesn’t try too hard to build up any tension. Soorma suffers from such banalities. He discovers his talent and soon he is winning matches. He has the accident and we are shown how the earth shatters for the family. He goes for rehabilitation and a song later he is walking. We know what happens but we are never surprised by anything, at least in the ways they happen or in the ways they are shown. It is inoffensive and straightforward, making us wonder if the subject deserved better.
Singh’s unfulfilled relationship with Harpreet is used like a slingshot for him to bounce back, an inspired decision that is thankfully not stretched to its emotional limits. Ali also falls for the Pakistan trap. Sandeep Singh as a hockey player for India has played in many tournaments and against many countries, quite obviously, but Shaad Ali makes the Pakistan matches the focal points. It’s as if our filmmakers cannot escape the trap whenever they want to show patriotism, chest-beating or any sports related success. Here is one of the best stories celebrating will, talent and love for the game. But did you do it against Pakistan? No? Please close the door on your way out. Next candidate please.