There was a time when everyone was making movies about Mumbai’s underworld. Mustard fields had given way to the badlands, creepy gallis, and the word bhai no longer meant brother. There was such a surfeit of these movies - and so many versions of the underworld crime genre (terrorism, romance, comedy, thriller), that apart from a few, most were rejected.
This one ends up being of the many—here, the differentiating factor being the combination of the humble living-room game of carrom with local crime, and the post-Ayodhya communal riots of 1992.
So you have Surya (Siddharth), rebellious youngest-of-three siblings living in his matchbox room in Malvani (an area heavily affected during the `92 communal riots that has since retained its `sensitive’ tag). He’s ambitious but guarded, unlike his friend Zaid (Ankur Vikal, Slumdog Millionaire) who proves his foolishness with every new escapade.
Surya steers clear of ghetto don Jaleel (Aditya Panscholi) who Zaid works for. Instead, he dreams of earning a lifetime’s livelihood in three years by working in Dubai. But the employment agency turns out to be fake and that leads him right to Jaleel’s door, who employs him in a carrom-betting racquet. Meanwhile, his older brother shoulders the responsibility of the house and the knowing sister warns him of getting too involved.
The story that starts off on a promising note but goes horribly wrong towards the end. A film that had us warming up to Surya for his convictions, sees him rape a woman who had given him shelter when he was on the run. The next moment, he smiles benignly and you see the two married. It’s alarming, the message this scene sends out.
Also, the story that was building up because of its authentic feel slips into a tired Hindi film cliché. We then see the `hero’ Surya emerge even as he has a hand-to-hand combat with the communal baddie and finally saves the day. It’s a hurriedly wrapped up end that doesn’t convince.
Producer-director Chandan Arora made the diametrically different Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh (2005) and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon (2003) earlier. In Striker, he is more influenced by Company, that he had edited. Arora’s storytelling is swift and assured. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a story here.
Technically, Striker is on very strong footing. The carrom rounds are absorbing and tense. The two opponents sit across each other playing the game, while the betters and spectators heckle or encourage with wah wahs with each strike.
Background score adds to the fun. P S Vinod’s camerawork, hardly ever static, keeps the viewer on their toes. The film is marvellously atmospheric, transporting you entirely into `90s Mumbai. The local trains brawls, vada pav snacks, riots, chases through slums, murders, corrupt police - Striker doesn’t hold back when showing the grimier side of the city. Songs are melodic and beautiful. Dialogue is striking and often draws parallels between the game of carrom and life itself.
Siddharth is perfectly cast as the hero-next-door, though his characterisation becomes wobbly towards the end. Ankur Vikal is excellent. Aditya Panscholi and Padmapriya are very good. The supporting cast is effective.
As the end credits roll, you appreciate the film it could have been. One cannot recommend a film over a few impressive scenes. Watch it only if you’ve been aching for a seamy Mumbai film.
Rating: Two stars