Soorma could be the sports biopic Shaad Ali needs to resurrect a career riddled with misfires

Gautam Chintamani

July 12, 2018 17:17:28 IST

A departure from the films he would otherwise be associated with, Soorma could probably usher in a new phase in the career of Shaad Ali. Former assistant director of Mani Ratnam, Ali’s filmography is spread over 16 years and his five released films include remakes of Ratnam’s films — Alai Payuthey (2000), OK Kanmani (2015). Helming a sports biopic might finally introduce a different facet of a filmmaker who has always displayed great potential.

When it comes to popular Hindi films, there are times when certain tags get attached to filmmakers and unfortunately enough, end up becoming their calling cards. In Ali’s case, the tag of a filmmaker who was most comfortable in remaking Ratnam’s films stood in the way of his own cinematic voice. Debuting with Saathiya (2002), the Hindi version of Ratnam’s Tamil hit, Alai Payuthey (2000), Ali has come a full circle with his last release OK Jaanu (2017), the Hindi version of Ratnam’s OK Kanmani (2015). Between the two films, he had a whirlwind career with a smash hit in Bunty Aur Babli (2005), a misfire in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) and the below average Kill Dil (2014).

Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi in a still from Saathiya. Yash Raj Films

Rani Mukerji and Vivek Oberoi in a still from Saathiya. Yash Raj Films

One of Ali’s great gifts is that amongst the crop of younger filmmakers in Hindi cinema today, he would perhaps possess the best ear for music and can effortlessly elevate screenwriting that could otherwise have fallen woefully short to become a socio-cultural statement. Although some of AR Rahman’s songs in Saathiya were recreated from the original but the success of Bunty Aur Babli, both as a film and soundtrack, revealed how Ali could use music to augment his narrative. This was also the film where Ali's knack for picking up a great tune came to the fore and moreover, his imaginative use of the legendary lyricist Gulzar who penned instant classics such as ‘Kajra Re’ and ‘Chup Chup Ke.

Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan in a still from Bunty Aur Babli. YouTube

Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan in a still from Bunty Aur Babli. YouTube

The success of the film allowed him to go head-on into his next, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, which was an ambitious project and one where the stakes were the highest up until then in his career. Here was a film that otherwise might have been just another in the roster for the producers, Yash Raj Films, but their focus become sharper as the music had caught the fancy of the people and the success of Bluffmaster (2005), Dhoom:2 (2006), Guru (2007) and also critical appreciation for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) had made Abhishek Bachchan a star in his own right. The rest of the cast in the film, especially Bobby Deol, the second lead, or Preity Zinta, was not a draw anymore and the entire onus rested on Bachchan junior, which was too much for the kind of irreverence that Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was probably aiming for. The word-of-mouth on the film was so poor that its fate was sealed within the first few days of its release.

Abhishek Bachchan and Preity Zinta in a still from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. YouTube

Abhishek Bachchan and Preity Zinta in a still from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. YouTube

Had Jhoom Barabar Jhoom been commercially a success, it could have done wonders for Ali. Till that point in his career, it was also the only film that he had written himself and in more ways than one, was a departure from the things that he had become used to, namely a ready-made project in the form of a remake. The film’s lackluster run at the box office, in spite of decent star power and a soundtrack that was one of the best in recent times, somewhere dented his chances, at least as a perception, of going beyond remaking his mentor's films.

Ali Zafar, Ranveer Singh and Govinda in still from Kill Dil. Yash Raj Films

Ali Zafar, Ranveer Singh and Govinda in still from Kill Dil. Yash Raj Films

That Ratnam might have had a strong influence on shaping Ali's cinematic choices runs deep. Unlike most assistants or associates who move on once they embark on a solo career, Ali continued to collaborate with Ratnam even after delivering successes such as Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli. Between Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and Kill Dil (2014), Ali assisted Ratnam on Guru (2007) and the multilingual Raavanan-Raavan (2010). In fact, popular Tamil cinema, too, seems to have had a significant impact on Ali. Even beyond his Ratnam remakes, Ali's Kill Dil, where two orphans (Ali Zafar, Ranveer Singh) raised by a local gangster (Govinda) to be assassins, appears to be inspired by the mood of Vishnuvardhan’s Tamil gangster film Pattiyal (2006), where Kosi (Arya) and Selva (Bharath), are contract killers working for a middleman Sami (Cochin Haneefa), who is a father figure to them. Even the character of the ‘girl’ in both films, Parineeti Chopra in Kill Dil and Padmapriya Janakiraman in Pattiyal, has a similar track where things go south once she enters.

Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in a still from Ok Jaanu. YouTube

Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur in a still from Ok Jaanu. YouTube

Having started with a remake of the film that ushered in a new phase of Mani Ratnam, Ali’s last release, OK Jaanu, just like the Ratnam original, remains the weakest in his body of work. The question that pops up in one’s mind when thinking of filmmakers with potential such as Shaad Ali is: Does a penchant for remaking films or rehashing classics such as Gus Van Zant's frame-by-frame Psycho remake or rebooting franchises in the case of JJ Abrams (who has helmed one MissionImpossible, one Star Wars and two Star Treks in the five films he has directed to date) keep them from being taken seriously? Or it does not matter as long as the audience enjoys the films and they do not lose money?

With Soorma, Ali gets a chance to tell a story that not only has all the crests and troughs believed to be essential for a typical Hindi film but also happens to be real. As someone who can take a moment and infuse it with imagery that manages to keep the narrative real, despite being rooted in the commercial Hindi film template, Ali and Soorma seem to be a match made in heaven.

(Also read — Soorma star Taapsee Pannu: I would like to have the same kind of filmography as Jennifer Lawrence)

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 17:17 PM