It’s a good thing that Bollywood is now looking for stories about real life heroes — and hockey player Sandeep Singh is undoubtedly one. His rise-fall-rise is what legends are made of. Shaad Ali’s film Soorma, however, cannot make up its mind, whether to tell the story in a straight, no-frills manner and risk boring the audience, or to inject high drama to grip them. The result is a mixed bag of a film, with unnecessary fictional flourishes, and then a dull documentary-like portion. If the film is still uplifting, it’s because of the perfect casting of the charismatic Diljit Dosanjh as Sandeep Singh.
In small town Punjab, hockey is a way out of poverty, since it promises a job if the player makes it to the national team — India khelna, they call it. As a young boy, Sandeep quit the game because of the violence of the coach (Danish Hussain), but his older brother Bikramjeet (Angad Bedi) perseveres and the family’s hopes are pinned on him.
Bikram fails to make the cut, but sees potential in his brother, who stars training again with the same sadistic coach, because he falls in love with female hockey player Harpreet (Taapsee Pannu). With a paint-by-numbers approach (and stirring soundtrack), Sandeep’s rise is charted, his selection by the national coach (Vijay Raaz), his entry into the Indian team, and the skill with the drag-flick move earning him the nickname Flicker Singh.
Then, a gun fired accidentally in a train pierces his spine, and his promising career is wrecked. He is paralysed waist downwards, and confined to a wheelchair. Harpreet takes the tough decision to leave him, so that he does not lose the will to recover. The scenes in which the family copes with the devastation, and the brother takes on the double burden of breadwinner and caregiver, are the most moving. The forced confinement and heartbreak make Sandeep irritable and he takes it out on the almost saintly Bikram.
Then, miraculously, help comes from the Hockey Federation, that pays for his treatment and rehab abroad. When he gets back on his own feet, his brother takes over to coach him back to international form. Of course, it would have made for more engaging cinema if the odds were upped, if he fought back with just his family’s support, if the authorities were as apathetic as they usually are, but Soorma is a biopic, so it follows what really happened.
In spite of the mostly bland, made-for-TV kind of approach, if the film still works, it is because of the performances by Diljit, Taapsee, Angad (outstanding) and Satish Kaushik as Sandeep’s father, so cowed by misfortune that all he can do is hope. It is an inspiring story that deserved to be told to a country that has let cricket overpower the achievements of all other sportspersons.