Sony Pictures Networks Productions presents “Soorma”

Produced by: Chitrangda Singh & Deepak Singh

Directed by: Shaad Ali

Written by: Shaad Ali, Suyash Trivedi, Siva Ananth & Adhir Bhat

Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Starring: Diljit Dosanjh, Taapsee Pannu, Angad Bedi, Satish Kaushik, Danish Hussain, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Avtaar Singh, Jimmy Moses, Bikramjeet Singh and others

After an exciting first half, 2018’s second half has begun on a lackluster note, if “Soorma” is the indicator as the first of the Q3/2018 (third quarter of 2018) releases, as the corporate entities put it.

The film has an incredible story, all the more fascinating because it is true, and the core of the story is faithfully narrated. Correction: Too faithfully narrated. The melodrama may be thankfully missing, but unhappily, so is the drama. The emotional quotient is stubbornly kept low, and despite coming from the Yash Raj Films stable, director and main writer Shaad Ali fails to learn the right lessons from the best of YRF films including, ironically, their hockey-based masterpiece “Chak De! India.” Easily, this ranks even now among the 10 best films made both by the banner and in the top five made in India on sports.

Those who have read my Diljit Dosanjh interview (India West), know exactly what happened to the Haryana legend Sandeep Singh, who was a champ against all odds by the time he was 20. An expert drag-flicker, he was chosen for the World Cup to be played in Germany in 2006 and was on his way to join the team in a train to Delhi when an accidental shot fired from a policeman’s gun paralyzed him waist down.

How, with sheer willpower, his family’s tacit support, and a Dutch rehab center, he was not only able to walk again but also become a bigger champion and win the Arjuna Award in 2011 formed the crux of the story, that is truly a whopper of a tale.

As per this biopic, Singh (played wonderfully by Dosanjh) went into national hockey solely out of love for his love Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu), a fellow player. This romantic track oddly goes out of the window and does not even come to a fruitful completion. Buzz is that she represented his unrequited love. But nevertheless, despite a nuanced performance from Taapsee (except that she seems to falter in her last few scenes) the way their relationship is finally handled is unconvincing.

The first half of the film is spent completely on Sandeep’s rise, inspired by his love, but this is where most of the film’s mark is made, from Vijay Raaz’s trenchant role as the coach who first scoffs at Sandeep and then bats fiercely (metaphorically, of course) for him. The highlight is the time Sandeep’s always-loyal elder brother Bikramjeet (excellent performance from Angad Bedi) discovers his brother’s skills as a drag-flicker.

Shaad Ali ends the first part at the terrible accident, and gets half-hearted about everything in the post-intermission part: the way the family deals with the man who shot him (they did not, actually, as it was an accident and their energies were focused on making Sandeep recover); the part Harpreet played; the role of the chairman (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) in arranging the whopping sum needed for a rehab; the rehab scenes (quickly glossed over); the earlier friction between the brothers and the sequence where they patch up – all these crucial sequences look not only cold but dry.

The coach (Raaz) seems to give a much better and more animated reaction at Sandeep’s return than his ENTIRE family receiving him at the airport!! The abrupt closing of the film with a commentary and a stock documentary footage could have been led to in a more fluid and involved way. Thankfully, the family is depicted as a normal one and not in the over-the-top way Sikhs or Punjabis are shown.

As in ALL films in 2018 and in most of 2017, the music is a sore point. Ali, the man who was responsible for decent scores in all his past films except the last (“OK Jaanu”) and brilliant music in “Kill/Dil” (his other films were “Saathiya” and “Bunty Aur Babli” – his only hits – and “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom”) seems to have neglected this area as well. In the name of trendy authenticity (sic!), many of the lyrics (Gulzar) are almost completely unfathomable in Punjabi. S-E-L’s tunes are barely hummable, and the background score (S-E-L with Tubby) just about alright.

Shockingly, the technical aspects are also either just average (art direction, editing, make-up, costumes, the hockey shots) or even below-par (the cinematography). The dialogues score in the first half again, while the screenplay is as uneven as the direction.

From the rest of the cast, Satish Kaushik impresses, and all the rest are good, especially Danish Hussain as the arrogant and tyrannical coach. Bikramjeet Singh, the real elder brother, has nothing to do but glower and grimace as a villainous Pakistani player.

Overall, the film just lacks what is sorely needed for a biopic and a whopper of a real-life saga.

Rating: **1/2

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