Harpreet Singh Bedi is unlike any other Sikh man you have seen in recent Hindi cinema. He is not a goofy, chest-thumping caricature who breaks into bhangra out of the blue. He is not the butt of everybody’s joke; he is not a dimwit. You will warm up to Harpreet for other reasons.
Harpreet is the hero of Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, a small, but charming film from the Yash Raj stable. Directed by Shimit Amin, who also directed Chak de India! (2007), it has another first besides a believable sardar as its protagonist.
It is refreshingly free of the excessive flourish, the heroics and melodrama that almost every Yash Raj film comes with. Writer Jaideep Sahni, who wrote Chak de India!, does not attempt a story that is big in scope or vision. Like Chak de India! Rocket Singh also has the hook of the underdog, but Harpreet is not chasing lofty dreams. He is a middle-class boy brought up by his grandfather (very convincingly played by Prem Chopra) with middle-class values—“give us a good life of honesty and truth,” he prays in front of a photograph of Guru Gobind Singh, lit up by a garland of twinkling tea lights—who wants to be a good salesman.
With naive enthusiasm and an even temper, Harpreet gets hired in the sales team of a computer selling and servicing company owned by a ruthless man. Inside the neon-lit office, it’s a world driven by targets, where bribery and sycophancy go hand in hand with success—not very different from most worlds we know.
Harpreet is unusually out of place here. His sense of right and wrong is unblinking, and naive. On his very first visit to a big client, he encounters something he has not encountered before: bribery. Outraged and shocked, he writes a complaint about the client and deposits it in the complaints box of the office and returns to proudly tell his boss what he did. All hell breaks loose. The big boss revs up the targets and cuts salaries of all his employees. Thereafter, Harpreet becomes the guy everyone hates. He is made to sit on a chair all day, to make cold calls to clients. Paper rockets get flung at him, and a squeaky toy is placed on his chair. By this time, Harpreet evokes pity, and things can only get better.
After a chance meeting with a young client (Shazahn Padamsee, a debutant), he stumbles on the idea of setting up his own little enterprise. Four others in the office join him and things begin to roll. “Even Spiderman has to take risks,” he tells his partners, and Rocket Sales launches. Does his honesty and willingness to do the grind without any promise of success see him through?
It’s a classic morality tale, so your guess is justified, but there are some surprises till the very end.
Sahni’s script has a preachy strain that limits the very ordinary, but unique protagonist. There are hardly any shades to Harpreet other than his desire to prove to his bullying boss that he can be his equal without being what his boss is. It is not a bad strategy to adopt to keep the script tight and if the scope and ambition of the script is not big to begin with, but when the unidimensional character becomes the moral voice and begins theorizing on the right way to do business—as opposed to the hardboiled, money-driven and apocryphal ways of the corporate world—Sahni’s script reaches a plateau. It never quite recovers from there. I came away with a smile, but not entirely satisfied.
Director Shimit Amin has a unique stamp in all his works. He approaches direction the classical way—by the book, and he does it extremely well. His films have a clear graph, and he extracts performances that hit a note of realism, infused with idealism.
Sahni gets the milieu of the medium-sized corporate crowd just right—there’s a caked-up, hair-streaked receptionist; a ruthlessly ambitious sales manager; a disinterested Telegu systems manager who surfs porn in a corner all day; and a paan-chewing north-Indian peon, all of whom become integral to Harpreet’s story.
The art direction, casting and costumes departments are three of the most efficient, contributing a lot to the film’s verisimilitude. Most of the performances are skilled and convincing, but it is entirely Kapoor’s film. The role doesn’t require much versatility, but within that limit, he makes Harpreet memorable. The little sardar touches and the unique body rhythms add to the character’s persona. As in all the roles he has done this year, Kapoor is at ease and the camera loves him. This is the year Ranbir Kapoor became a star—a star refreshingly free of stunt acting.
Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year released in theatres on Friday.