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Striker

Rating: 2.5

February 05, 2010

Cast: Siddharth, Aditya Pancholi,

Director: Chandan Arora

Set in the 1980s in Malvani, a claustrophobic ghetto of suburban Mumbai, Striker, directed by Chandan Arora is a gritty slice-of-life movie that never achieves its full potential. Remarkably shot and competently performed, the film is let down by a confused script that can’t decide what point to make.

Rang De Basanti‘s Siddharth stars as Surya, a poor boy who aspires for a better life than the one he’s currently living in a dingy shack that he shares with five members of his family. When his efforts to make a passport and land a job in Dubai prove fruitless, Surya has no choice but to use his superb carrom-playing skills to make a living. His friend Zaid (played by Ankur Vikal) introduces him to the local goon Jaleel Bhai (played by Aditya Pancholi) who runs illegal gambling and betting dens in the neighborhood, where Surya must play for big money. Expectedly his involvement with Jaleel Bhai gets him into trouble with the cops, distances him from his family, and ends not very nicely at all.

Striker scores full marks for authenticity — for its accurate portrayal of the city’s dark underbelly, for its use of real locations and for its consistent colloquial dialogue.

Director Chandan Arora does a bang-up job of creating entirely believable characters who you will care for. Like Surya’s earnest elder brother (played by Anoop Soni) who repeatedly urges him to pursue a real job, however low-paying. Or his sister (played by Vidya Malavade) who is sympathetic and supportive but ultimately a mute spectator when he’s banished from the house by the eldest sibling. Or even Zaid, his best friend and an occasional drug-dealer who’s living life on the edge but is eternally optimistic and blessed with infectious enthusiasm.

The film falters eventually because it can’t find its feet. There’s a side-track about the communal riots which is never fully developed. There are two romantic tracks, the first entirely dispensable, the second too convenient. Surya’s journey too comes off as half-baked, and his final voice-over which is meant to put things into perspective, leaves you entirely underwhelmed.

And that’s a pity. Because Striker has so much going for it. Aditya Pancholi is appropriately menacing as the scar-faced villain; and Siddharth delivers an excellent performance as Surya, displaying vulnerability when required, or chocolate-boy charm when that is needed. From the physicality of his part to the emotional mind-space he must inhabit, Sidharth creates a fully flesh-and-blood character out of Surya.

Stealing the show, however, is Ankur Vikal who is extraordinary as the free-spirited, hyperactive Zaid. It’s among the finest acting pieces you will see this year.

Despite Arora’s solid efforts, the film loses steam well before the end credits roll. Although only two hours in running time, the movie feels endlessly long, and fails to culminate satisfyingly. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Chandan Arora’s Striker. It’s not a bad film by any measure, but it most definitely could’ve been better. Watch it for some excellent acting and for its gritty realistic feel.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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