Good performances override shortcomings
Film: A1 Express
Cast: Sundeep Kishan, Lavanya Tripathi and Rao Ramesh
Director: Dennis Jeevan
A1 Express movie review: Early on in A1 Express, the Sports Minister delivers an emotional speech on a hockey ground. He does it theatrically, as if it were an election speech. Since it is Rao Ramesh who is the Minister, you excuse the dash of unrealism infused into an otherwise ordinary moment. In a way, that scene represents the movie. While the stagecraft seems contrived, the casting is perfect!
A hockey ground, which was made almost holy by its association with a legendary hockey player of the early decades of Independence, is sought to be pawned to a corporate house. Everyone is helpless until a former hockey champion comes to their rescue. No prizes for guessing the name of the saviour!
A remake of the Tamil-language film Natpe Thunai (2019), A1 Express is elevated by the largely captivating performances of the cast. For one, we have Murli Sharma, an ex-military man whose dedication to hockey is almost legendary.
Then, Priyadarshi and Rao Ramesh save whole stretches. Sundeep Kishan as Sanju steals the show in the emotional scenes, and his understated performance in the decisive hockey match in the second half stands out. Lavanya Tripathi, who plays a talented hockey star, is not the run-of-the-mill "heroine" and is an excellent choice for the role. Perhaps this is one of her best performances.
Being a film with a mix of cynical politics, greedy corporatism and compromised sports personalities, A1 Express should have stayed away from low-end ideas like racist jokes and the stalking routine.
After a point, you feel like shouting, 'No more rom-com scenes, please!'. Satya, Mahesh Vitta and Posani Krishna Murali are your typical cardboard characters. The trajectory of the film, overall, is way too familiar.
On the bright side, director Dennis Jeevan lets the different characters dominate the narrative here and there by courageously letting the male lead keep himself from the frames.
While the film is typically a saviour's story narrated with musical muscle, it also allows its many characters to find a voice. Friendship and passion for sport are themes that this film showcases like a typical Tamil movie. Nothing wrong with that!
The hockey match, which was highlighted by the makers as a USP of the film, should have given the audience goosebumps. But, for all that it had the right mix of music (Hiphop Tamizha's BGM is spot-on) and emotions (the entry of a friend is heart-tugging), it somehow feels inadequate.
A1 Express may not be a perfect sports film, but it has its moments.