Life is a Cinema Hall rating: (3.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)
In his sixth full-length feature directorial outing, Shaad Ali makes some unusual choices in how he narrates the real-life story of hockey player Sandeep Singh—not that those plot trajectories are all wrong or deficient. But you’d think that Soorma (Warrior), in getting a largely untold and less-covered-by-mainstream-media story to the cinema hall, would be more resilient and packed with a lot more gumption.
Not that Soorma is a bad movie. Far from it: it entertains and moves you at the right time and in the right measure and tones. Which, on closer look, is also its drawback. For Sandeep Singh (played by Diljit Dosanjh) did the unimaginable and the hopelessly unattainable that deserved more grit and punch. But more of that in a bit. The movie opens with a reel-life parallel to that melodic, part-Archie baked part-adrenalin-bumping entertainer Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar. Sandeep’s a happy-go-lucky chap staving off any talk of responsibilities that come from his family—father Gurcharan Singh (Satish Kaushik, delightfully understated and effective), mother Minaxi Singh and patriarch Avtar Singh (Jasmin Bajwa and Mahabir Bhullar, both very good). Then, there’s his elder brother Bikramjeet Singh (Angad Bedi), who’s their hope of financial redemption and also of representation in the Indian hockey team.
Sandeep’s already sworn off the game and the harsh and authoritarian coach Kartar Singh (Danish Husain, absolutely on the mark), while Bikramjeet soldiers on, carrying with him the dreams and future of his family. Sandeep isn’t idling though. He falls for Harpreet (Tapsee Pannu) who’s also coaching under Kartar. And if love makes the world go around, it also—for Sandeep at least—puts him back into the whiplashing thwacks of Kartar. For, he’s doing this to win the affections of Harpreet and eventually her family. And so the first half traipses along with spurts of hockey—that also bring onscreen coach Harry (Vijay Raaz)—the requisite training song sequence, the drag-and-flick technique, hummable Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy numbers (especially Ishq Di Baajiyaan), and the needle of familial responsibilities falling on Sandeep’s shoulders. The interval card cracks a horrifying gunshot that leaves you paralyzed with worry, even if you know the story ahead.
Post-interval, the movie charts Sandeep’s journey of despair and tribulations, which, in real life which would have included heartbreak and pushing mental and physical sinews to frontiers and levels that would’ve seemed impossible to just about anyone. And then of course, the player’s return to the game. Director Ali shows all of this in a way that’s never boring, and yet which is all too pat. Where you’d have wanted to see more of Sandeep’s struggles and his state-of-mind tuning, you get another song to tag his road to recovery in far-away Holland. What ought have to been an unbearable-to-watch and yet impossible-to-look-away-from segment is neatly wrapped, as if the director and his co-writers (Siva Ananth and Suyash Trivedi) didn’t want to cause you—or the honorable CBFC— much distress.
The other sub-plot that the movie truly dilutes is, surprisingly, the game itself. While you don’t expect every hockey-based movie to dribble into Chak de! India‘s crosses, Sandeep’s journey as a player seems too easy. It’s as though the intentional focus is on his flickering skills, and the rest of it doesn’t matter. Which is why when he comes back to the field, there’s no whooping sense of drama or exhilaration. How you wish the director had shaved off some of the initial romantic fluffery and focused on the zinger-action on-field in the second half, zooming into the sheer will power and strength it must have taken to get back into the action and limelight. Now it seems as though it was all a cake-walk, and the team and the opponents were waiting to see the drag and flick magic.
However, the emotional roller-coaster with his family is nicely done, getting in some heartwarming and genuine moments—watch the scene where Sandeep returns home and his mother is standing at the entrance, and Angad Bedi’s Bikramjeet tells her to save her crying for when they all enter; father Satish Kaushik looks at Bedi and gestures with his hand as if to say, “What on earth…?!” As beautiful are the moments between Tapsee Pannu and Diljit, especially when she comes visiting the hospital—there’s true heartbreak and strength that ripples onscreen.
The performances too are top-notch, touching your emotional synapses when you least expect it. Tapsee Pannu is luminous, her act a lovely mix of impishness and—later—rapidly acquired maturity, even as her moves on-field are a mix of grace and agility. Vijay Raaz is simply fabulous, his phlegmatic act the second highlight of the movie. The actor adds a simmer of scintillating punch to his dialogues, keeping his emotional track at an even keel even as he kicks the air in unbridled joy whenever the Indian team shoots a goal.
But Soorma belongs to Diljit Dosanjh and Angad Bedi. In the titular role, the former is supremely likeable and vulnerable. Even when his director pulls his punches, Dosanjh doesn’t, his act roiling with pain and angst. Watch his late night soliloquy on the phone, the other side ringing incessantly and then disconnecting; he redials and begins speaking again, with every one-sided conversation his world disintegrating into the darkness. The actor’s equally good in his hockey action—both he and Pannu were trained by Sandeep Singh and his brother Bikramjeet Singh, the latter cameoing in the movie as the Pakistani team captain, Tanveer Alam—his character’s manic focus blending into his as if by magic.
And Angad Bedi is quietly powerful, his act thrumming with brotherly love and a hug of protection. Watch him as he explodes in anger and wheels his brother away from the house in a tightly directed sequence; or, when Sandeep comes into the house post the hospital stay, he looks at him—while other family members dance—with such affection, you feel the warmth and love seeping all across the cinema hall. And for that, you’re thankful. Because in a world where families and people are rapidly being divided by boundaries—virtual and actual—and online whataboutery, that look is a much needed salve.
Life is a Cinema Hall ratings chart
(1 / 5): Don’t bother
(2 / 5): Not too great
(3 / 5): Worth a watch
(4 / 5): Very good
(5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW
Soorma is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition).
Director Shaad Ali Running Time 2h11min
Writers Shaad Ali, Siva Ananth, Suyash Trivedi
Stars Diljit Dosanjh, Angad Bedi, Tapsee Pannu, Vijay Raaz, Satish Kaushik
Genres Biography, Sport
Watch the trailer of Soorma here: