She’s a number. Slippier than an eel, this fish vendor in a Tamil Nadu seaside hamlet, is not about to allow herself to become a cute cutlet. She has spine, rat-a-tats words dripped in anything but saline, and just won’t fall in line.Meet Madhi, the teenaged Girl Goliath who has the temerity to talk big with Saala Khadoos, written and directed deftly by Sudha Kongara, former assistant to Mani Ratnam.
The influence of her guru shows up sufficiently, especially in its combination of elements from mainstream and out of the box entertainment. Plus, there’s a montage song picturisation which instantly recalls Chhoti Si Asha from Ratnam’s Roja.
Be that as it may, the triumph of this sports drama -- shot in Hindi and Tamil simultaneously -- is the seesawing relationship between a reluctant boxing championship contender and her emotionally retentive coach.
For sure, there’s something deja view about this, given the abundant stock of Hollywood movies in the genre (Hoosiers, Million Dollar Baby, Creed and more), besides a similar take already advanced by Chak De! India. Predictable and derivative yes, but never mind, you’re still grabbed by the collar to pay attention to a dramaturgy invested with conviction.
Of course, the writer-director could justly argue that Saala Khadoos is an inspirational account, drawn from the case studies of gifted Indian sportswomen discovered by altruistic talent scouts. Indeed, the script was sourced from an editorial in The Hindu newspaper on the boxing sport scene in North Chennai. Right.
So there you are, forget the progenitors, the trials and tribulations of the headstrong Madhi (Ritika Singh, a super discovery) and her gruff coach (R Madhavan), add up to the earliest surprise packet of the year. Cheers!
Come to think of it, anyone feeling blue would do well to rush to the test of nerves culminating in a championship showdown. Chances are you’ll come out feeling elated and a little less smug. And rooting for Madhi, the unlikeliest screen heroine you’ve encountered in a long time. Outfitted in baggy shirts, shorn of any vestige of phoneyness and accustomed to ticking off males for their one-track minds, at the outset she’s obsessive about being a support system to her elder sister (Mumtaz Sorcar, impressive), who must excel as a pugilist to secure a placement in the police force.
Next: Over to the inscrutable, washed-out coach, who’s hiding his demons behind a beard thicker than a wall of bricks. He notices that it’s Madhi who’s the winner of the two sisters. After striking an uneasy equation, the disciplinarian begins the training regimen. If Madhi develops a crush on him, warns he sensibly, “You’re not the first one of my students who has fallen in love with me. Don’t, just focus.”
Easier followed than done. Sibling rivalry apart, Madhi has to face calamitous odds, particularly during the script’s latter half. That’s when the otherwise engrossing story is flooded with cliched chestnuts and implausibilities.
The villain of the piece, the cut-and-paste baddy – President of the Sports Association or some such (Zakir Hussain) not only keeps setting up speedbreakers, but…oh oh…kya unkool hai woh. He even makes those vintage Ranjit-like sexual overtures to dear Madhi in the course of a midnight train ride. When he’s rebuffed, he breathes fire and brimstone. Oddly, another sportsgirl advises the victim that ‘sleeping around’ is part of the game. Casting couch, anyone?
Battered blue constantly, supergirl Madhi backtracks, to be reprimanded by Coach Beard, who’s made of sterner stuff. To avoid a spoiler alert, suffice it to say that the finale keeps you on tenterhooks: your concern and empathy are aroused to such an extent that you feel as if you’re in the front row of the boxing showdown, yelling out, “Attagirl, focus. Dammit!”
Enhanced by Sivakumar Vijayan’s pastel-shaded camerawork, Sathish Suriya’s swift editing, Santhosh Narayanan’s low-key music score and the overall production design which evokes a beachside ghetto of Srinivasapuram and the visual splendour of Dharamsala and Ooty, here’s teamwork of the highest order.
Of the supporting cast, Nasser in the part of an endearing junior coach, is outstanding.
Clearly, both the lead actors Ritika Singh and R Madhavan are inspired, turning in correctly nuanced performances.
Here’s hoping that Ritika Singh is seen frequently in the future. And R Madhavan ventures into more such hard-knuckled roles. Fingers and toes crossed.
Image Source: facebook/Irudhi.Suttru