Films based on sports in India are not too many. CHAK DE INDIA being the sincerest, MARY KOM & BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG being the most commercial ones and LAHORE being the most underrated in the league, you can actually have them on your fingertips. I don’t see the reason why Bollywood is so unsure about good sports films, other than the apprehension of falling into a predictable zone that has been exploited in the west till the time it gets colorless. You talk about boxing in films and the ghost of Rocky Balboa will come automatically in the picture to judge your efforts. I mean who’s not a fan?
First time writer-director Sudha Kongara’s SAALA KHADOOS can also be seen struggling to hit that fear on its face and make it bleed fresh and original. Sadly, the punches in the ring don’t usually reach their mark but the kind of fight characters and the performances produce in the film, SAALA KHADOOS manages to taste the triumph in its last round. It’s a sweet little film where a bunch of well-written characters carries the whole film on their shoulder as ably as their unwavering attitude.
Once a prospective boxer himself and now an ever-offended coach for women boxers, Adi Tomar [Madhavan] is pitched to the least fertile boxing terrain in Chennai. The politics in sports are the forces behind it. Tomar is a strict, ruthless and unsympathetic taskmaster who can also shed his own money if it gets him a greatly potential protégé. And he finds one in Madhi [Ritika Singh], a local temperamental girl with similar madness, anger and untamed frustration. The teaming-up between the two is the hardest ever mission especially when they both are already being mastered by their alter egos and the never-slowing down aggression.
Despite having good knock-out matches, callous practice sessions on field, corrupted selection processes and all the sports-gyaan; SAALA KHADOOS works less as a sports film and more as a freshly brewed love-story between Adi and Madhi. In the very first moments of realization when Madhi confesses her love to her coach, he heedlessly instructs her to continue her practice-session as he’s more of her father’s age, “So? I don’t say I love you to everyone of my father’s age.” She hits back. Sudha Kongara also deserves a pat on back for not falling for customary bollywood romance between the lead pair, though the wide-spread predictability is always there.
SAALA KHADOOS charms you with the uninhibited, wild and fresh performance by Ritika Singh, a professional boxer before making her first attempt at acting. Her free-spirited, loud-mouthed and all moody role-play is efficiently delightful. Madhavan gives SAALA KHADOOS everything it demands from him. He looks every bit of a full-grown ex-boxer with all the attitude, arrogance and aggression in him, hitting the right cord. One of his highly approving works! His mime-act in the climax is a pleasure you’d never want it to go. Mumtaz Sorcar as Madhi’s less-talented and highly ambitious sister is a confident support. Zakir Hussain playing a dominating and over-powering corrupt sports official is good. Special mention to Baljinder Kaur! As Madhi’s north-Indian mother married to a south-Indian father, she looks believable to the core.
At the end, I think SAALA KHADOOS has found two amazingly short-tempered, deliciously cranky and pleasantly foul-mouthed characters in Adi and Madhi, way too unfortunate to have their love-story ended in an unfurnished manner. Bring them back in a more violent love-story, and it will sure knock us out. Watch it even if it doesn’t give you an adrenaline rush like most of the boxing-movies offer! [3/5]
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