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Say Salaam India - Review

By: Taran Adarsh, IndiaFM
Saturday, April 07, 2007
Sometimes, small films [in terms of budget, setting, face-value] speak louder than big films. Say Salaam India is one such film!

Sports-based themes aren't new to Hindi movies, although they haven't been attempted frequently. In the recent past, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and Lagaan and more recently, Iqbal and Hattrick made an effort to club a sport and story in those two hours.

On face-value, the expectations from Say Salaam India are zilch because [a] There's zero hype for the film and [b] It abounds in first-timers. From its producers to director to a majority of faces on the screen, Say Salaam India is their debut vehicle. But never judge a book by its cover. This one is a truly well-made film!

Say Salaam India reminds you of three films mainly -- Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Lagaan and Iqbal. It's about the underdogs and the hardships they face when they chase their dreams. It's about the clash between the haves and have-nots. And if you get the drama right in such films, the viewer is forced to root for the underdogs. That's what happens here as well.

Yet, despite the merits, certain things are beyond anyone's control. The film's release period seemed appropriate till last week, but after India's exit from the World Cup and the dejection all around, a 'cricket movie' is a complete put-off.

Also, for any film to stand on its feet, it ought to be promoted well. There has to be at least some awareness. It's important to make a good film, but it's equally important to ensure that it reaches out to as many people as possible. In this case, the promotion as well as awareness is missing.

To sum up, Say Salaam India is an honest attempt, but its fate at the ticket window is sealed for the above-mentioned reasons.

Say Salaam India revolves around a group of four boys and their passion for cricket. The boys come from humble backgrounds and limited resources, but what they have is a zeal for the game and undeniable natural talent.

They study in the local school where the most important sport on agenda is wrestling, taught by Wrestling Guru Surinder Huda [Manoj Pahwa], a man driven by hatred for cricket because in his eyes it is cricket that is responsible for destroying traditional sports like Kushti, Kabbadi and Hockey.

Hari Sadu [Sanjay Suri], a cricket fanatic, believes that gully cricket is to be played with a similar commitment as any other level of cricket. His new job is to coach the Royal Heritage team [an elite school] to win their sixth state championship, but the headstrong, arrogant members of the school team are more impressed with Sachin's Ferrari than his batting skills and hard work behind it.

This adds to the already simmering tension leading to a final showdown where Hari Sadu is wrongly accused and thrown out by the members of the school trust. He's replaced by Harry Oberoi [Milind Soman], who is more of a suave fixer from the cricket world than a coach, but suits the image and profile of the school.

Hari Sadu is determined to make a local team to take on the cudgel at the inter-school challenge. How he develops a cricketing eleven from the wrestling team at the local school, overcoming various hurdles to take on the Royal Heritage School at the inter-school challenge, is the crux of the story.

Say Salaam India is Subhash Kapoor's directorial debut and you've to admire two things about the storyteller. One, he has the courage to tell an honest story without bowing down to market diktats and two, he says it exceedingly well. Sure, there have been cricket-centric movies and the benchmark is really high, but Kapoor's take is as convincing as those films.

There're points in the narrative that touch your heart, sadden and gladden you later. There are clap-trap moments as well, especially the penultimate 20-minute cricket match, and you end up being one of the spectators rooting for the best team. That's why this movie works and works so beautifully.

On the flip side, the movie stagnates in the second hour with a few repetitive and unwanted scenes. The Sanjay Suri-Sandhya Mridul track, for instance, stands out like a sore thumb. Also, the pace drops midway, but picks up again in the climax.

There's no scope for music in an enterprise like this, but the tracks playing in the background [music: Gaurav Dayal] are in sync with the mood of the film. Special mention must be made of the background score - Gaurav Dayal [effective], cinematography - Fasahat Khan [appealing] and editing - M. Rafique [crisp].

The performances spring a pleasant surprise. Sanjay Suri, a dependable actor, is in top form yet again. It's sad that film-makers haven't woken up to this talent yet. Milind Soman comes in much later and he also pitches in a superior performance. Most importantly, he fits the role to the T. But why this bearded, untidy look, Milind?

The film has a bunch of new characters, but the ones who stand out are Aditya Seal [playing Siddharth, the rich, spoilt brat], Mandhar Subhash [Viru] and Anuj Pandit [Guri]. All three are excellent. Prateek Jain [Mahipal] and Madhur Mittal [Shakeel] are alright. Manoj Pahwa is fantastic yet again and provides ample laughs. Sachin Khedekar is alright. Vinay Pathak gets limited scope. Shraddha Nigam is effective. Sandhya Mridul is wasted.

On the whole, Say Salaam India is an honest attempt, but is bogged down by the period of release. Also, the poor promotion coupled with lack of face-value will result in Say Salaam India getting marginalized at the ticket window.

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