This restrained sports biopic looks at Sandeep Singh's remarkable comeback
In a season of biopics, it is refreshing to see one where the director applies restraint and steers away from an overuse of platitudes. The story of hockey great Sandeep Singh is, after all, not ordinary, even though the man came from humble beginnings. Motivated by patriotism, family and love, Singh overcame adversity to regain his place in international hockey.
The story pivots around Shahabad, Haryana, where Singh and his family live. Mentored by his older brother Bikram (Angad Bedi), Sandeep’s efforts earn him a spot in the Indian hockey team. His signature move—the drag flick—ensures that he becomes the highest goal scorer in his first international tournament, earning him the nickname of “Flicker Singh". But the train journey to join the world cup squad ends prematurely and tragically.
No spoilers here, because Singh’s story is well-documented. The sportsman suffered grievously when an accidental gunshot by a careless co-passenger injured him. Doctors declared that Singh’s hockey career was over, as he was paralysed from the waist down. But will-power, tenacity and the right medical attention got him out of the wheelchair, back on his feet and onto the field.
Writers Shaad Ali, Suyash Trivedi and Siva Ananth gently follow a linear narrative to recount Singh’s story but the screenplay feels rather lazy and the drama of Singh’s inspirational story is barely felt. Director Shaad Ali’s past films have had memorable music (Saathiya, Bunty Aur Babli), but that’s not so with Soorma. Yet he works well with his actors to transport us to Singh’s simple sporting world with a vicious local coach and a sweet family unit.
Singh established a world record for the drag flick, became captain of the Indian national hockey team, played in the 2012 Summer Olympics and is an Arjuna awardee. However, the hockey matches look less like top-grade international fixtures and more like Sunday college matches. One misses the frenzy, drama and skill one saw in Chak De India, for instance. The supporting performances are commendable, in particular Satish Kaushik as the sympathetic but world-weary father, Vijay Raaz as Singh’s sassy coach, Bedi as the supportive brother and Pannu as Singh’s muse, who motivates him to beat all odds. You wish there had been more of her experience too.
Dosanjh brings an innocence and quiet to the character, which works well when Singh is in the early stages of his arc, but as the drama builds, the onscreen engagement wanes. There are some unexplained story jumps—how do both Harpreet and Sandeep end up abroad; how does Singh regain his berth in the India squad; why does Harpreet simply step away from him during his rehabilitation? At no point do you doubt that Singh will make it, nor does one feel awe at how he surmounts colossal physical and mental setbacks. The underdog story is perhaps too underplayed.