By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Victory"; Cast: Harman Baweja, Amrita Rao, Anupam Kher, Gulshan Grover; Director: Ajitpal Mangat; Rating: ***
First things first. This isn't a film about cricket. Not entirely. It's also about life, dreams, ambitions and nightmares and how the individual gets progressively sucked into self-seeking opportunism while chasing those elusive dreams.
"Victory" takes a leaf out of all the inspirational tales on sports and sportspersons that you've seen or not seen, from "Chariots Of Fire" to "Chak De! India", and turns it into a flourishing tree of thoughts, ideas and visuals suggesting a deep link between hopes and compromises.
The rags-to-riches and shame-to-glory tale is nothing new. The redemptive narrative takes us into a territory that we have probably charted umpteen times. What sets debutant director Ajitpal Mangat's rugged but emotional film apart is the discernible love that it exudes for the sentiments of the masses.
This is the story of the middle-class for the middle-class. While retaining a core of commercialism in creating Vijay Shekhawat's portrait of a ordinary man's extraordinary dream, Mangat manages to introduce a certain amount of finesse and polish to the product that makes this inspirational story a cut above the rut.
The cricket sequences, which serve as signposts in the protagonist's plunge into the world of wondrous influences, are the highlights of the film. Shot with a self-assured panache in stadiums across the world with internationally-known cricketers, the film's credibility level rises automatically when we see the expertise on the playing field.
No doubt the director loves the game. But he also loves movies about the games that life plays with people. Undoubtedly the director is a cricket fan. It shows in almost every shot that he so diligently shoots with cameras that don't prowl on the field. They search for the most special moments in that intimate relationship that forms on the field between the batsman and the bowler. When capturing cricket, the narrative spins a nail-biting montage of sporty suspense.
Cinematographer Vikas Shivraman is thoroughly clued into director Mangat's mindset both on and off the field. Together they create a world that captures the protagonist's innerscape without reducing the locations to incidental props.
For Harman, this film is as redemptive and as glorious a comeback as it is for the character he plays. Hitting sixers and scoring zeroes on the field, or sharing moments with his screen dad, played by Anupam Kher, or the sweet, supportive girlfriend (Amrita Rao) - "Victory" showcases Harman's filmy skills.
Indeed "Victory" is a far more accomplished film than it at first seems. It's easy to say we've seen all of this before. But the sweetest songs are always those that are sung to a familiar tune in exciting unpredictable voices.
"Victory" does just that. It works as a sports film. It works as a film about the cascading dreams of a wannabe who should have learnt to run before deciding to fly. And it works as a vehicle to spotlight Harman's dexterity in front of the camera.
In brief, this one works.