Friday, February 5, 2010

Film Review: Striker

Doesn't pocket the Queen

Starring: Siddharth, Ankur Vikal, Aditya Pancholi, Seema Biswas, Anupam Kher, Nicolette Bird

Director: Chandan Arora
Stars: **1/2

Chandan Arora is the man behind two of the most criminally underrated films of the past decade -- Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon and Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh. His third, Striker unmistakably has some of the strengths of these two earlier films. But this coming-of-age tale, though moderately engaging, is never entirely satisfying or emotionally stirring as it could have been.

The film is a clear departure for the director from his past work, as he recreates the chawls and crannies of Malvani, a fishermen's colony in Malad. There is a sense of communal harmony and people for most part co-exist happily here. The story is based in Bombay of the 80s and 90s – a period of great churning. Today the city which looks to be in the advanced stage of decay, was then a place pregnant with possibilities.

Surya (Siddharth) is a sickly child who is confined indoors often. His elder brother introduces him to the game of carrom and soon, Surya becomes a champion of sorts. As he grows up, he gives up the game and makes plans to go to Dubai and make enough money for himself and his family. Meanwhile, he falls in love with a ravishing Muslim girl in his neighbourhood, Noori (Nicolette) (along with the gorgeous music, this is a wonderfully shot portion). But neither his love life nor his Dubai plans come to fruition. It is at this time he meets his childhood friend, Zaid ( Ankur Vikal), who acquaints him with Jalil (Adiya Panscholi), the local goon, who among other things, also bets on carrom. Surya gets sucked into this world and along with Zaid starts to live on the edge. His enmity with Jalil escalates, and ends in a high drama when the flames of the communal riots of 93 look to engulf Malvani.

The setting is authentic and the attention to detail is impressive. The director breathes tremendous life into his lower middle-class characters and their homes. There is a great lived-in feeling about the place, so much that you almost feel the wafting smell of pomfret reaching you. Even the infamous era of Bollywood is evoked with a Govinda-Kimi Katkar song of the 80s. The mood rightly denotes a sense of expectancy about the future.

While Chandan Arora gets his setting right, the story itself lacks the requisite punch. Carrom is used as a metaphor to indicate the protagonist's highs and lows. But this doesn't come across in the film and ends up being just an excuse to have a fresh, untried backdrop. It could well have been a game of 'Snakes and Ladders' (and Surya says this in the film too) and it might have been more apt. This lack of metaphorical resonance is one of the biggest problems with Striker.

The film could have become a pointless excercise, if it were not for the current scenario in Mumbai, where everyday the city is threatened by some form of terror or the other. And yet, the director's depiction of the villain in the film doesn't evoke much interest, because he is presented as a completely black character. Jalil is singlehandedly responsible for every small and big calamity that strikes our hero (!). He wears a black kurta at all times, so as to not leave any doubt in your mind about his character. Surya is the underdog who takes on the might of a Jalil. It could have still been interesting, but such a scenario has already been portrayed in the Aamir Khan starrer Ghulam, isn't it?

Also, in some instances, things come to a head quite suddenly and inexplicably in the film. It's a bit extreme to see Jalil beating up Surya's brother during their growing up days for no reason. Similarly, Surya's lady love vanishes from his life forever the day her father spots them together in a local train. The pre climax where there are deaths also apears too sudden.

One has to say though that the film could have turned infinitely superior with a more talented lead actor. For the kind of complex role this is, Siddharth's poor diction and dialogue delivery constantly work as an impediment. Also, the only way he portrays his angst and frustration is by huffing and puffing all the time. The scene stealer turns out to be Ankur Vikal as the 'lukha' with a proclivity for mischief. Aditya Panscholi is good, but is stuck in a thankless unidimensional role. Vidya Malavde hams it up.

Many of the weaknesses prevent the film from being the cathartic and uplifting story that it could have been. It succeeds in parts, but overall, doesn't quite hit the mark.
- Sandhya Iyer