24 February 2006

Review of Iqbal

(I wrote this a couple of months back. I had seen the film when it was released with my parents. I took a very long time to write the review as I did not want to be swayed by the feel good factor only. The review has appeared in the Jan-Mar 06 issue of ‘Success & Ability’).

He is the person who coined the term anti-slick for something tacky a few years ago with the sequel of ‘Hyderabad Blues’. Now Nagesh Kukunoor, with his new film ‘Iqbal’ has brought new dimensions to a much-abused Bollywood term “feel-good”, where any film connecting the elaborate North Indian wedding ceremonies fell into this genre. Here the director brings the triumphs of an underdog to underscore the true meaning of term.

The premise of the film is well known by now: that a deaf-mute teenager from a fictitious tiny hamlet in Andhra making to the Indian Cricket Team. The script is laden with incidents which you can directly associate with happenings in the real world, may it be the inner workings of the selection process or the meteoric rise of a cricketer with an underprivileged background from a minority community.

In a cricket crazy nation these things are enough to ensure success of the film. But what wins our hearts are the minor things weaved into the story; be it the dogged approach of the youngster in chasing his dreams or the incidental treatment given to the disability. The director was often quoted as saying that he didn’t want to show the family of the disabled person wake up crying every morning or words to that effect. He remains true to his words so there is subtle humour underlying throughout the film and the best part being that one cannot remember an incident where the disability of protagonist being cursed or discriminated against, which is typical of any film dealing with disability.

So far so good, but you find glitches in the proceedings when you dwell for a while on the theme i.e. cricket. A cricket enthusiast with prodigal talent in fast bowling, who practices his art with three twigs for stumps while gracing buffaloes, has never bowled to real batsman till the age of eighteen is very hard to digest. It may be true that the coverage the game gets on TV can make an armchair expert out of any lay viewer but you cannot get an international quality player out of that. Iqbal practises his game in complete solitude. It could have helped if he was shown playing gully cricket with tennis ball with boys of his age (it could have worked wonders for the cause of Inclusion). Nagesh had initially wrote the script with a Malkhamb (Maharastrian pole gymnastics) practitioner in mind, a solo sport, but had to change it to a bowler when he found that there were no buyers for the idea, so he couldn’t incorporate the team concept in the initial stages of the story.

Technically, the film sets high standards; the treatment reminds you of Iranian master Majid Majidi’s ‘Children of Heaven’. The fable like treatment gels very well with the content because we understand this is an unreal story but positively told. And, its influence can be immense on the uninitiated. I have heard of kids trying to hold the seam of the cricket ball upright while practicing after watching the film.

There may be some flaws with the characterisations, but you flow with the happenings to notice them at the first go. The central character Iqbal played by Shreyas Talpade looks earnest and eager as an aspiring cricketer. His chemistry with Shweta Prasad, who plays his young sister, is very endearing. The presence of Naseeruddin Shah as the reclusive failed cricketer with drinking problem, who agrees to coach the young lad, helps to amplify the performance of the two youngsters. Girish Karnad as the scheming coach of the local Cricket Academy brings in a sense of realism into this film, but his character doesn’t seem to fit into the whole scheme of things in this feel-good caper.

All seen and said; not really, in spite of its shortcomings, you still root for reel ‘Iqbal’ as you would for a real Irfan or a Dhoni.