Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Saala Khadoos: Review

In Saala Khadoos, you’ll hear it said more than once that if you remove corruption from sports, you’ll find a hundred champions on every street. Silly as that statement is, it’s one of the few original thoughts this film has. It’s difficult to get through a scene without running into something that’s been lifted from another sports film or is such a cliché that it belongs to the genre at large. There’s the former athlete looking for redemption (shades of Chak De India!). There’s the wilful underdog female boxer (shades of Million Dollar Baby). There’s the comic-relief assistant (Rocky), sports authority villain (Chak De again), warring siblings (Brothers), untimely injury and eventual fight-back. Saala Khadoos borrows from everyone and ends up a pale imitation of its sources.

Adi (R. Madhavan) is a former boxer with Hulk-level anger issues. After his career was curtailed by a motivated injury, he became a coach, but his behaviour is like that of a righteous Mike Tyson. After he grabs the boxing federation head’s testicles, he’s transferred from Hisar to Chennai. There, he comes across Madhi (Ritika Singh), a fish-seller with no formal training but uncommon spirit. Soon, hothead is coaching hothead, and the result is as screechy and over-the-top as you would imagine.

Though this is a film in Hindi, it doesn’t feel like a Hindi film. The director is Sudha Kongara Prasad, a former assistant of Mani Ratnam; her first two films, were in Telugu and Tamil, respectively. In addition to Hindi, Saala Khadoos has also been shot in Tamil as Irudhi Suttru, and one can tell that this is the language the makers are thinking in. Though the second lead is a fish-seller in Chennai, she speaks like a Mumbai tapori. The dialogue sounds like it’s been translated from Tamil. Even the filmic grammar—the tenor of the drunken scenes, the style of dancing—has a recognizably southern feel to it.

That’s not the end of Saala Khadoos’ problems. We never know why Madhi goes from hating Adi in one scene to falling for him in the next, but more than being hurried, it just feels wrong—a reiteration of that hoary belief that sportspersons of the opposite gender who spend time in close quarters will eventually be attracted to each other. Singh, a former boxer, is convincing as an onscreen athlete, but the film tries to give her a force-of-nature cuteness that is very trying. Madhavan, sporting a newly buff look and shaggy mane, is all gruff barks and bluster. It’s tough to take his character—or a film with lines like “I clean shit but you stink”—seriously.

This review appeared in Mint.

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