Underdog-to-champion is an all-too familiar sporting film trope. You know, when you see a fiery young girl jousting with her potential coach, that she will come up trumps. The really good films stuff the script with freshness: you know where they are headed and yet you follow the journey with anticipation and pleasure.
From frame one, ‘Saala Khadoos’ seals the possibility of surprises. Everything is by-the-numbers, and you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen next. That’s what stops the film from rising above the ordinary, despite the fresh faces of the two girls who have leading parts, as well as the more experienced, bulked-up turn from R Madhavan.
Adi Tomar (Madhavan) is a foul-tempered headstrong character who has fallen afoul of the guy who calls the shots in national women’s boxing in New Delhi, an oily, corrupt fellow (Zakir Hussain) who preys upon young female hopefuls. The girl Adi discovers on a punishment posting down South, Madhi (Ritika Singh) is an aggressive spitfire: she helps eke out for her family’s meagre earnings by selling fish, is her older sister Lux’s (Mumtaz Sorcar) support, and is not above throwing a few efficient jabs and punches when she gets riled.
The setting is somewhere in Chennai. The faces are local and match the milieu. The man-on-the-spot, repping the on-the-spot boxing body is played by Nasser, who is relaxed and fits in well. The grizzled old-timer who watches Adi’s back in the national capital is done by MK Raina, who shows, effortlessly, how less is more.
You can’t say the same for newbie Ritika Singh. She is full tilt at all times, screwing up her face, her body, anger coursing through her veins, never letting up: after a while, you want to tell her to slow it down, to breathe, the part’s not going anywhere. She does manage it in a few places, and it’s in those instances that her smile lights up the proceedings. (Sorcar, as the sister, has a much smaller role, but is more effective). Madhavan too is revved up much more than is needed, managing to break through in a couple of quiet moments.
The fact that it is about women in a sporting arena– heck, that it is a sports film– should be a thing to celebrate, and you can see that effort has gone into creating authenticity while training-and-fighting-in-the-ring, but ‘Salaa Khadoos’ is far too literally realized to be a really strong film.
Unlike Madhi’s hero Mohammad Ali, it neither floats nor stings. It drones.
Cast of Saala Khadoos: R Madhavan, Ritika Singh, Mumtaz Sorcar, Zakir Hussain, Nasser, M K Raina
Director: Sudha Kongara