Is A1 Express a sports drama? Yes. Is it a love story? Yes. Is this remake of the Tamil film Natpe Thunai an ode to friendship? Yes. Is Sundeep Kishan’s 25th film a political movie? Hmmm... yes. Is straddling multiple genres a problem? Yes, and no. Sundeep steps into the shoes of Hiphop Adhi from the original. If Natpe Thunai established that Adhi’s debut was not a flash in the pan, A1 Express aims to cement Sundeep as a bankable star, and what better way to do this than with a masala film.
A1 Express goes one step further – it’s a masala sports film that does a lot of things at once, but manages to come up trumps with most. One fine day, Sundeep aka Sanju (a charming and effective Sundeep Kishan) visits his uncle in Yanam, Pondicherry. And before you can finish saying “A1 Express” he falls in love with Lavanya (Lavanya Tripathi, who starts well but is handed the short end of the stick too soon). While this love track is mostly filled with eye rolls and half-smiles of the leads, their charm ensures we don’t respond to the meet-cutes with eye-rolls of our own.
Then, we see Rao Ramesh (the actor having a blast) as an unscrupulous politician who wants to close down the local hockey ground and sell it to unscrupulous businessmen. The only one standing against this grand plan is army officer-turned-hockey coach Murali Sharma and his team. By the way, minus points for the unimaginative naming of the lead characters. In between this love story and the political drama, it is impressive how the makers never lose sight of A1 Express essentially being a sports story. The hockey portions are stirring and A1 Express boasts of some decent sporting visuals.
The strength of a remake lies in how well it is adapted to suit local sensibilities, and on that front, A1 Express works quite well. The experience of Sundeep and Lavanya is taken into consideration while rewriting some scenes that worked in the original because of the relative newness of the leads. Sundeep, sporting washboard abs, isn’t exactly the vulnerable Adhi, and the changes in A1 Express keeps the film ticking even when the proceedings enter cliche territory.
It is slightly unfortunate that apart from the flashback sequences featuring Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi, and a few other scenes, the proceedings don’t necessarily feel organic. Scenes seem stitched together, and it makes us feel detached from the film one too many times. Hiphop Adhi’s songs from the original are rehashed in A1 Express, and most of them work in Telugu too, especially the cracker of a song during the interval and Rao Ramesh’s theme music.
Full points also to comic actors like Posani Krishna Murali, Satya, Raghu Babu and Mahesh Vitta, who ensure that the film has a strong undercurrent of humour. A1 Express is a sports drama, a love story, an ode to friendship, a political movie, and much more. It manages to hit all the highs of the original, but smartly sidesteps the seeming lows.
Cast: Sundeep Kishan, Lavanya Tripathi, Rao Ramesh, Murali Sharma
Director: Dennis Jeevan Kanukolanu