A sports film that says a lot about the game of life

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STORY: Former sports coach Vijay Barse invests his time and hard-earned money in training underprivileged children in football, to steer them away from drugs and crime strewn in Nagpur’s slums.

REVIEW: There is a pink and white wall, with iron fences in most places. It has a door, which is locked and guarded to prevent people from the adjacent slum from crossing to the other side where educated and wealthy families live. This image, metaphorically, indicates the area in which this film ventures. It is further emphasized with the film’s closing visual, where an airplane is seen flying just above the slum huts of Mumbai.

Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s Jhund isn’t a pure sports biopic, though it does follow the usual beats of a good sports drama. The film is a commentary on what we as a society can do to help the less fortunate identify their positives and cross the border to the other, brighter side. Amitabh’s Vijay Borade (modeled after Vijay Barse, a retired sports teacher Vijay Barse, who trained countless street children in football and formed an NGO Slum Soccer) adequately talks about it in a crucial part of the film, which takes place in the alleys of Nagpur, shot wonderfully (Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti). The French-speaking camera skilfully captures the city’s landscape, particularly the jhopadpatti (slum) where most of the film takes place.

Although the proceedings in this room begin at a modest pace, they pick up steam in no time. Vijay Borade is about to retire from his job as a college sports teacher, but not yet in the mood to hang up his boots. He is motivated enough to teach adult education classes in his home for the locals at his own expense. The opposition of his son, aiming for studies abroad, is obvious but underestimated. When children from a nearby slum catch Vijay’s attention while playing football with a plastic barrel, he begins to drag them into the game, which gradually distracts them from their life which is riddled with crime and of drug addiction. But how far does it really go? Are they all giving their lives in the dark alleys of crime and drug addiction? Do some or all of them have the chance to jump to the other side? All of this and more is answered in the film’s nearly three-hour runtime.

As writer and director, Nagraj Popatrao Manjule manages to hold the attention for most of the movie, however, the pacing slows in the second half, and it could do with a tighter edit. Plus, what it does is that the pre-interval is high in energy and the post-interval is high in drama – a balance there could have earned the film a few extra points. There are a handful of colorful characters in the first half which adds to the energy and even induces humor. Although the narrative addresses several issues, sufficient effort is also put into showing some engaging sports on the field. The story arcs and loops for each featured character were well crafted; again, it would have had a lot more impact if the editing was more focused.

One of the centerpieces of the film is the subtlety with which several issues such as caste division, societal judgments, class difference, economic difference and women’s education and rights are interspersed in the storyline. The downside is that some of these issues distract from the proceedings, breaking the overall flow of the story.

Words are rarely enough to describe how wonderfully Amitabh Bachchan pulls off the roles he chooses to play. This time it’s a retired sports teacher who, despite obstacles and financial hardships, pours his hard-earned money into protecting and raising children in the slums of Nagpur. Again, he’s mastered every scene he appears in – never overshadowing his team of players, always adding more power to them. What also catches your eye is the confidence with which more than a dozen children and young adults, like Ankush (also Don/Ankush in the film) perform. They hold your attention well. Rinku Rajguru and Aakash Thosar (seen in Sairat de Nagraj), despite reduced screen time, provide effective support for the rest of the cast.

To sum up, this one is a dramatic sports movie, which may not have thrilling moments around every corner for you, but the point it tries to drive home will definitely give you a hard hit. inside.

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