Cast: R. Madhavan, Ritika Singh, Zakir Hussain, Naseer, Mumtaz Sorcar
Director: Sudha Kongara
I recently watched Ryan Coogler’s Creed, staying up late at night and weeping along because I still can’t get over Rocky Balboa. That’s the thing with most sports films, from Chariots of Fire to Raging Bull, from Jerry Maguire to The Wrestler, from Bend It Like Beckham to Chak De India. They are heartening, moving, uplifting, reaffirming. On their heroes, as they rise from the ashes, from deceit, failure, tragedy or simply daunting circumstances, we pin our own hopes and dreams.
Watching them misty eyed, we promise ourselves to rise, like they did, to conquer our own challenges, fears and goals. They send us out, back into our lives with a little more faith in ourselves, with a little more grit to try again.
I absolutely love them. They are my go-to films when my batteries need to be recharged.
That’s why I hated Mary Kom and Brothers. One drained my batteries with its Bollywood fakery that was devoted to keeping Priyanka Chopra unsoiled and diva like. There was too much simulation around her and very little that she did to gain my trust. Brothers just made me want to throw punches at the screen for its exceptional stupidity.
I liked Sudha Kongara Prasad’s Saala Khadoos, despite her uneven script and direction. At times her film soars with emotion and drama based on believable and frustrating reality, and at times when it gets lazy and uses Bollywood tricks for characterisation and twists, it sinks.
Adi Tomar (R. Madhavan) is a failed, frustrated boxer who coaches the women’s boxing team. He has a particularly nasty equation with the wrestling federation’s boss, Dev Khatri (Zakir Hussain). A corrupt, slimy official, Adi wastes no opportunity to call him names and heckle him. In turn he transfers Adi to Chennai whose female boxers are not in the reckoning.
Adi is temperamental, foul-mouthed, but a keen spotter of talent. And when he spots Madhi (Ritika Singh), he knows he’s found the student he’s been looking for. Only she’s a fisherwoman who has no interest in boxing except to support her sister Lakshmi (Mumtaz Sorcar) who is hoping to land a job in the police force on sports quota. He sees himself in her. She sees a tharki old man behind his pestering and persistent coaching.
Saala Khadoos follows the Chak De, Million Dollar Baby story arch diligently — a frustrated, down-and-out coach, and an impulsive, unruly but gifted student. This makes for a tumultuous relationship and plot — rising and dipping on hope and frustration all along till the final, weepy victory when Madhi has to fight a Russian world champion’s “vinashkari hooks”.
Saala Khadoos spends a lot of time in showing us how belligerent and self-destructive both Adi and Madhi can be at the cost of a slightly more developed story and characters. Only the film’s two plot devices — sibling rivalry and corruption in the federation — add some meat and twists to an otherwise straight story.
Madhavan is a great actor. But here he looks like he was ready for more than what he finally got. Apparently he trained for a year or more. We see the silhouette of his biceps, but never get to admire his skill in the ring. His buff physique remains an unused, if slightly distracting, show-piece. He screams and shouts and threatens a lot, but doesn’t get to throw punches despite his character resting on laurels we must believe in.
Madhi is supposed to be a working class girl in Chennai. But there isn’t even a sprinkling of Tamilian flavour in her characterisation or diction. Why make her Tamilian if you are not going to give her character anything that’s remotely Tamilian?
The film pays a lot of attention to the action when Madhi is in the ring. That Ritika Singh is a boxer in real life helps. Apart from the two filmy and rather annoying montages devoted to showing Madhi as a cute and bubbly girl, Ritika Singh stays in her aggressive, angry, petulant character throughout and I really liked that. She’s refreshingly raw and unique in her ease with her body and I hope we see more of that. Soon. Zakir Hussain is fabulous as usual. Why we only see him in the margins of films baffles me.