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The Joker Coming October.

Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Soorma, Review: Bio-pick

Soorma, Review: Bio-pick

Diljit Dosanjh pours his heart into a dream role, and director Shaad Ali inspires the cast to turn a real-life, touching tale of a star hockey player into a rivetting bio-pic. Even if the writers have deviated from incidents and facts (we call it cinematic licence), it all jells together into a highly convincing drama that survives a 132-minute run and stays with you for even after a full 24 hours and more.

Soorma (not to be confused with surma, which is applied in the eyes, like kohl) is a Hindustani word that means brave warrior. A film was made many years ago by actor Jagdeep, in which he named himself after his character in Sholay, Soorma Bhopali. Soorma Bhopali was a coward con-man, and the name was kept to convey sheer irony. In the present film, the word Soorma is not quite apt, considering it is the tale of a hockey player, and not a soldier, policeman or vigilante. The only real act of bravery he indulges in is his determined effort to recover from paralysis. Anyway, that’s a minor point.

Soorma tells the story of the international hockey player and later captain, Sandeep Singh, who was accidentally injured in his back by a bullet that left him paralysed, waist down. Fighting against all odds, Sandeep got back on his feet and made a comeback to international hockey in 2008. India won the 2009 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup under his captaincy and went on to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

The first half is devoted to a growing Sandeep Singh’s infatuation and fixation on Harpreet Kaur, a girl in his native Shahbad, who is training to become a national hockey player. Sandeep’s own brother, Bikramjeet is a good hockey player, so he too joins the training camp, only to be ridiculed and punished severely by his coach, who strongly believes in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Gradually, he drifts away from hockey, until his family recognises his potential and finds ways to get him into the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. The family is a lower middle class unit, and success in hockey will get Sandeep a job and the family a much needed new home, not to mention the girl who rules his heart.

Well, it works. Bikramjeet discovers that Sandeep has a natural flair for a hockey scoring move, called drag flick, which can fox goal-keepers and ensure goals. Nothing can deter Sandeep now. He makes it to the national team and wins them game after game. On the field, he plays even with a broken nose. But it is off the field that an injury he sustains spells doom. He slips into coma, recovers after a few days, and, to his utter dismay, discovers that he is paralysed, waist down. Instead of standing by his side, Harpreet moves to London, hurting his ego, and encouraging him to participate in a major recovery routine, on the rebound. This includes an expense of Rs.3.5 million (huge amount at that time) and six months at a rehab centre in Europe. Luckily for him, his benefactor, the Chairman of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF), who chose him for the team in the first place, makes all arrangements and meets all expenses. Miraculously, he is cured, fully recovered, and rarin’ to go.

Three writers have contributed to the screenplay: Ali himself, Siva Ananth, his old friend from the days when both were assisting Mani Ratnam, and Suyash Trivedi, who has largely worked in TV. In terms of basic plot, the story has a premise similar to Ratnam’s Dil Se, wherein a terrorist falls in love with a radio jockey and he is willing to sacrifice everything for this love. They do not sugar coat the bitter truth that he is no patriotic nationalist who has hockey, and only hockey, on his mind. Rather, he is a crazy lover who is doing all this primarily to impress the girl’s mother and brother.

Yes, there is the stereo-typical taskmaster of a local coach who hates his guts and the connoisseur of a counterpart at the national level who sees tremendous potential and trains him to perfection. Stencilesque? Well, it is a true story. Likewise, there is many a situation that appears common or beaten, but it is the writing that raises it to natural, honest levels. While on the plusses, here’s a minus: enough of the thoko (knock), phodo (burst), todo (break) boasts and other similar ‘encouraging’ slogans. We all know that hockey is a rough game and the players are wont to mouth profanities. These terms are halfway, neither here nor there, and get you to go “not again”!

Obviously, Chitrangada saw the makings of a Laila-Majnu, Sheereen-Farhaad, Sassi-Punnu, Vamiq-Uzra, Heer-Ranjha and Romeo-Juliet romantic saga, blended with success in India’s national game’s triumphs in international hockey, as a sure fire formula to reach the audiences mind-field. In the writers-director team and the actors, she has found an honesty that is not too common among makers who want to just cash-in on biopics.

Shaad Ali puts his hands on the pulse of the audience and shows only two matches in some detail: India v/s Pakistan, a country that has won some big medals in its time, but is seen as the quintessential Indian enemy, in cricket as well as hockey. Two examples of humour coming in where it is least expected happen on field. Humour also dots the childhood antics and tribulations of Sandeep, when he is punished for bringing samosas on his coach’s orders from the wrong brother’s shop, even though the shop is actually one and the brothers merely man different windows.

Diljit Dosanjh (Udta Punjab, Phillauri, Welcome to New York) is a blend of Ranbir Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan, adding his own Punjabi roots to the characterisation. It’s a performance that needs to be applauded. Tapsee Pannu (Baby, Pink, Naam Shabana) as Harpreet has just the figure for a hockey player and just the teasing her beloved shade her persona that keeps Sandeep’s passions simmering, while she hammers home many a home truth with a velvet cover. Physical chemistry, anybody? Angad Bedi (F.A.L.T.U, Pink, Tiger Zinda Hai) as Bikramjeet Singh steals many a scene and this film should and an upward surge to his career-graph.

Three actors in relatively minor roles underplay their parts to perfection: Satish Kaushik as Sandeep’s travelling salesman father, Kulbhushan Kharbanda as the Chairman of the Indian Hockey Federation and Vijay Raaz (Raghu Romeo, Dhamaal, Welcome) as the Bihari Babu school-teacher Harry, who has reached the position of the national coach and who sees in Sandeep a star in the making. Thank god they did not have him doing the narration, a job that really no justice to this gifted actor. That they got Taapsee to narrate is even worse. Danish Hussain gets to play a hideous sadist of a Shahbad coach, Kartar Singh, who feels that all training must be tortuous. Also in the cast are Siddharth Shukla as Harpreet’s brother, Pitobash, Seema Kaushal, Herry Tangiri, Ammar Talwala and Mahabir Bhullar.

Shankar-Ehsan-Loy have done the music, which is largely Punjabi. Though well composed, one number, ‘Good man dee laltain’, gets to become memorable largely because it is sung in parts and at just the right places.

There has been a spate of bio-pics, true to the bone or fictionalised. One was on women’s hockey and was called Chak De! Soorma is not remarkably different from any of them—it is just more human and a shade more natural.

You might notice that Indian Airlines is referred to in the film as Indian Airways. Why on earth? Guess 1: The Central Board of Film Certification objected. Guess 2: There were copyright issues. But it still beats me. Why on earth?

Sony has distributed this film that is in the Hindi language, with a smattering of Punjabi.

Rating: *** ½


P.S.: Sandeep Singh won an Arjuna Award, given to sportsmen who made significant achievements and is named after the legendary archer from the Mahaabhaarat. In the film, you see him getting the award from India’s then President, Pratibha Patil, in archival documentary footage, with a sudden change of aspect ratio.

Now for a sporting headline from Hindustan Times, dated 22 February 2014: “Sandeep Singh remains India's best drag-flicker, even though he is not in the national team, says Jamie Dwyer, five-time world hockey player of the year. Sandeep was last part of the Indian team in the Hockey World League Round 3 in June 2013.”


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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