Soorma is remarkably low-key about its high notes. To the cliche-ridden sports biopic genre, which is groaning with accounts of early victories, career-threatening adversity and fist-pumping clawbacks, Soorma introduces welcome strains of modesty and intimacy.
The 131-minute account of hockey player Sandeep Singh faithfully follows the rise-descent-ascent trajectory of the average sports drama, but by maintaining a focus on the characters and their emotional journeys, Soorma hit home many goals. The build-up adequately establishes the plot, the mandatory training montages have a business-like feel to them, and the climactic match victory is crispness itself.
Sandeep Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) is a late bloomer in more ways than one. An obnoxious bully of a coach, Kartar Singh (Danish Hussain), puts Sandeep off hockey as a child. Sandeep’s elder brother Bikram (Angad Bedi) is the one marked out for glory. But two factors ensure that Sandeep is the one who represents India on the international field. The minor one is Bikram’s failure to qualify for the national hockey team. The major one is Sandeep’s love for hockey player Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu), which encourages him to tolerate Kartar Singh’s bullying and resume training for the sport.
Sandeep’s talent earns him a place in the Indian team, and his ability to flick the ball off the ground and slam it with immense strength and speed at the goalpost earns the praise of his coach Harry (Vijay Raaz). The lad will create a hole in the netting some day, Harry predicts, but a misfired weapon ensures that this feat doesn’t come easily.
A bullet that is accidentally fired by a Railway Protective Force official during a train journey paralyses Sandeep waist-down. After a year of therapy in Europe, he can walk and run, and the next steps he takes are all in the direction of the hockey field. Every sports biopic turns on an easily relatable metaphor. In Soorma, it is the act of getting back on the feet.
The screenplay, by Shaad Ali, Suyash Trivedi and Siva Ananth, balances Sandeep’s individual achievements with the team effort that aids his pushback. Sandeep’s family, led by his brother Bikram, backs him all the way, and the scenes in which Bikram cares for Sandeep allows Angad Bedi to shine in a hero-led narrative.
The hockey federation has its Sandeep Singh champions, including his coach Harry and the chairperson (Kulbhushan Kharbanda). Harpreet’s tough love approach – she wagers that Sandeep will never shake off his stupor unless she remains out of reach – also plays its role in his recovery. Sandeep’s passion for Harpreet complements his pride in wearing the Indian jersey, and by not neglecting Harpreet’s role in pushing Sandeep to glory, Soorma gives Taapsee Pannu her share of the spotlight.
Among the smaller roles that stand out are Danish Hussain as the nasty coach, Satish Kaushik as Sandeep’s father, and Vijay Raaz as Sandeep’s crusty but soft-hearted coach. (Raaz also has some of the movie’s best lines, including the observation that in his home state Bihar, even murder involves effort).
Soorma is ultimately a hero’s journey. The casting of Diljit Dosanjh, the immensely likable Punjabi actor and singer, ensures that we get a solid measure of Sandeep Singh’s personality. Sandeep’s pre-accident scenes set him up as a romantic dreamer and an instinctive player who is willingly moulded by the people surrounding him. Sandeep’s courtship with Harpreet has many winsome moments. One of Soorma’s most enduring images is outside of the field: the retreating backs of Sandeep and Harpreet as they match steps at a wedding function.
The gentle vibe that surrounds Sandeep on and off the field never wavers even after he has leapt back on his feet. Soorma cannot always escape the cliches associated with the sports biopic genre, including a rousing background score, the inclusion of emotion-heavy songs, occasionally corny lines, some subtle digs at hockey rival Pakistan in the match sequences, and a cardboard villain in the hockey federation. But by downplaying the genre’s excesses – chest-thumping jingoism, macho aggression, excessive manipulation – and giving its hero enough room to find his place in the world, Soorma ensures that this triumphal journey of the human spirit is full of surprises. The checklist remains in place, but this saga of heartbreak and heroism also has undeniable heart.