Two years ago, Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi film Sairat took the classic Romeo and Juliet trope of forbidden love and gave it a rural twist. Even with a running length of almost three hours, the audience went along on the journey with teenagers Archi and Parshya, played with surprising skill by newbies Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar.That tale was set in the interiors of Maharashtra, where the caste system dictated relationships. The resounding success of Sairat, its thumping soundtrack and heart-wrenching climax, has resulted in a number of remakes, including this Hindi version.
In the glossy Dhadak, director Shashank Khaitan locates the story in Rajasthan where a cutesy love affair unfolds among the cenotaphs, in step-wells and around the lakes of Udaipur. Outfits crafted from bandhini,leheriya and mirror-work in vibrant shades are juxtaposed with the blues, whites and stone of the desert state town, captured warmly by cinematographer Vishnu Rao.
Madhukar Bagla (Ishaan Khatter), the son of a rooftop restaurateur, throws caution to the wind and woos Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor), daughter of an unscrupulous hotelier with political ambitions. Ashutosh Rana plays a caricature upper-caste zamindar, but it is a typecasting he has perfected – smirking behind his thick moustache, encouraging his son’s hooliganism and playing the merciless tyrant.
Despite warnings that their mismatched social status would be trouble, college classmates Madhu and Parthavi continue their naive love story. Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor exude ingenuousness as they build up to a dramatic mid-point. If in the first half Parthavi plays the dominant role in the relationship, in the second half Madhu takes charge. The script tackles this well and the actors play their parts compliantly.
Kapoor brings the requisite arrogance of a spoilt, upper-caste girl used to getting her own way. Khatter is endearing as the eager-to-please boy unprepared for the curveballs life is about to fling in his direction, events that dramatically catapult him towards manhood. While Sairatconvincingly showed the enormous challenges for a runaway couple, Madhu and Parthavi land on their feet relatively easily and it’s not long before they are playing house-house in Kolkata. (I found myself rather distracted by how these two broke and runaway teens had such an expansive wardrobe).
Khaitan has adapted the source material to achieve two positives. Firstly the running time is reduced to a manageable 130-odd minutes. Secondly he has brought out the best from two inexperienced actors. Dhadak may be missing the frenzy and infectious energy of the Zingaat hit tune of the Marathi original, the grit and grime of Archi and Parshya’s struggles, and a feisty lead like Rajguru, but Khaitan’s sanitised drama does have its own strengths. Top of the list is Khatter who owns the affable, silly, wide-eyed Madhu from frame one. Plus there are commendable supporting performances by Ankit Bisht and Sridhar Watsar as Madhu’s BFFs. The dewy Kapoor has her moments too, but wobbles in the most dramatic scenes and often drops her Rajasthani accent.
Holding on to the honour killing idea, the writer-director has taken liberties with the climax to retain the essence of Sairat, albeit watered down. Without revealing any spoilers, suffice to say it does not deliver the punch that left you winded while watching Manjule’s tragic tale, and you wonder if the reimagining was necessary. Yet, within the ambit of Bollywood, Dhadak is a watchable film that goes beyond the initial curiosity factor to stand on its own legs.
At a time when supposedly responsible filmmakers are glorifying gangsters, terrorists and sociopaths in ostensible bio-pics, ‘Soorma’about the struggles of hockey champ Sandeep Singh to overcome crippling obstacles to claim a name among sports legends, comes as a gust of unpolluted air.
This is a film that needed to be made, a story about a man whom future generations need to know about and look up to. Damn, the young need role models from our everyday life, not imported super-heroes who can’t save their own egos even as they purport to save civilization from destruction.
Soorma serves up an appetizing homemade dish of inspirational drama and some beautifully furtive flights of flirtation where Diljit Dosanjh’s Sandeep Singh courts Tapsee Pannu’s Harpreet with hockey and love songs. There is a resonant ring of authenticity to the courtship, as though director Shaad Ali were addressing love not as a second-hand emotion but a first-hand dip into emotions that are so real and pure, they make us smile.
A lot of the time Shaad’s narrative deploys the standards sports tropes: protagonist undertaking punishing regiment, cruel coach and gruelling tasks for the hero, savage setbacks and those inspiring songs about akela-chala-chal (very cutely redolent in Gulzar’s poetry). These stereotypical signposts of sportive cinema are sprinkled into Sandeep Singh’s life-story with inspiring gusto.
Shaad Ali films Sandeep Singh’s story with tremendous empathy. There are no attempts to titivate the tale with an august aura, or make the characters more appealing than they really are. It is the narrative’s good fortune that it gets the actors it deserves. Not just Diljit Dosanjh who simply takes charge of Sandeep Singh’s character with pride and affection, but the rest of cast who huddle together in a circle of shared kinship that moved me to tears, specially when Sandeep is wounded by a near-fatal gunshot.
There is a sequence where a man kindly inquires about Sandeep’s health, and Sandeep’s father (played with contagious compassion by Satish Kaushik) looks so forlorn for a few minutes he becomes every disappointed father who ever dreams of seeing his child conquer the world.
Angad Bedi as Sandeep’s Veerji is also splendid. Physically and emotionally potent, Angad makes the supportive sibling’s part look so real you wish you could take him home to be your real-life bro. Vijay Raaz as Sandeep’s Bihari coach reins in his emotions with expertise. Tapsee Pannu as the hockey player who is wooed by Sandeep Singh has seldom looked so pretty.She lends emotional heft to the film’s second-half when she must move away from love to redeem the loved one.
The irony of the situation is not lost on the narrative. Director Shaad Ali, making as triumphant a comeback after the crippling failures of Jhoom Baraabar Jhoom , Kill Dill and OK Jaanu , as Sandeep Singh after the freak gunshot, keeps the narrative straight and uncluttered. He gets fabulous support from his leading man. Diljit Dosanjh makes the character and his struggles look so artless and credible you want to reach into the innards of the plot and hold the protagonist’s hand and tell him, ‘It’s okay. You will be fine. I’ve suffered too.’
In a sequence like the one where Diljit pleads and rages over the phone against his beloved’s seeming betrayal. Dilijit’s gentle control over the swelling emotions is laudatory. If this performance doesn’t fetch Dosanjh a National award, what will?
Don’t look for subtleties in this tale of valour and resilience. In fact some portions,for instance the buildup in the train to the gun-shot, are purposely constructed in an unvarnished style to impress on us the immediacy and longevity of a saga that goes beyond one individual’s ability to make a comeback.
If Sandeep Singh was nicknamed ‘Flicker Singh’ this film takes that flicker into sphere of a burning flame. Soorma just makes you happy for the unsung heroes whom cinema has the power and reach to put on a pedestal.