Iqbal is in many ways the first of its kind movie in Hindi. I don’t remember seeing a Hindi or Tamil sports movie. Lagaan was not about sports really, and if Nagesh Kukunoor is to be believed neither is Iqbal. He claims it’s about the human spirit, but the only spirited performance in the movie comes from Nazeeruddin Shah. The rest of the cast just pale in comparison.
Entering the movie only after its twentieth minute, Nazeeruddin, playing the town drunk, brings a kind of freshness that Kukunoor is probably desperate for. But to the director's credit, he lets the actor just do his thing.
Sports movies about underdogs are nothing new. From Rocky to Million Dollar Baby, Hollywood has made a few every year. But in Hindi sport movie genre, Kukunoor may have just beaten everybody to the box office. But the heaviness with which he handles the subject is just a little too much - the deliberate and contrived style of editing, the heavy score and the one song that underlines Iqbal’s early training days are all tacky stuff.
The story is pretty simple. Iqbal, a dumb and deaf 18-year-old, makes an unlikely journey from talented but untrained bowler to find a place in Team India in a matter of months. On the way, he has to deal with the wrath of his father, who hates cricket and wants him to be a farmer; and then a snobbish, deal-making coach who throws him out of the cricket academy after an incident with the local ‘Richie Rich’, and most of the time, just the process of discovering and believing in himself.
He has two staunch supporters who support his dream, his mom and his bespectacled sister. Here is where Kukunoor Indianises the movie. In a clever move, he throws out the mandatory lover-supporter of the underdog sportsperson from the screenplay and replaced that role with that of the sister and mother.
But the journey while being interesting is not full of surprises. The best cricketing scene is the one with the numbered buffaloes. In this scene, Iqbal has to bowl in such a way that his coach can only hit the ball on a particular buffalo which only the bowler can see. Pretty neat.
After Iqbal convinces ex-cricketer and now alcoholic Mohit to coach him, they jointly begin training. Iqbal becomes a cricketer, as expected, and Mohit almost gives up alcohol and enjoys a second life of sorts.
Shreyas Talpade is all right as Iqbal but I would wait till a couple of his movies are released before making an assessment of his acting. Girish Karnad is good too, but the playwright is not really such a great actor. Or may be he is too subtle for me to tell.
But what ruined the movie for me was its utter predictability. Just because there is no one running around trees on screen, a movie cannot be called artistic and great. I find the euphoria surrounding the movie upon its release stupid. And Kukunoor is consistent in only one way. Just like in Hyderabad Blues, this film’s climax is also pure junk.