Cast: Sudeep, Suniel Shetty, Aakanksha Singh, Sushant Singh, Kabir Duhan Singh, Appanna
Director: S Krishna
Ali Abbas Zafar created a template in 2016 for films based on the sport of wrestling when he made the Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma-starrer Sultan. The story of a benevolent son-of-the-soil (aka wrestler) entering the ring in the latter half for a noble cause earned a spot in the top layer of Bollywood. Director S Krishna hasn’t milked the same emotional highs and lows for his new film starring Sudeep, but there are a lot of similarities between the two movies to let this go off the hook. And, the inspirations don’t stop there! I could think of at least half-a-dozen films from which the threads have been borrowed.
It would have been okay if they had all come together to make Pailwaan appear like a diamond in the rough. But, they don’t, and that’s why, I suppose, the rant!
Like any movie, featuring an A-list male lead, Pailwaan has many dialogues about the hero’s prowess. Sudeep plays a wrestler named Krishna, who’s fondly called Kichcha (don’t begin to roll your eyes already). The role is tailor-made for Sudeep. He fits the part with his lean physique even though his screen-opponents are bulkier than him. He shows you that he can go a step ahead of them in the akhada. However, if the director had concentrated on “showing” rather than “telling,” there would have been more fights and victory-dances. Here, though, you’re left with Paapu (Appanna), Krishna’s sidekick, delivering un-punctuated lines about what a great man his friend is.
Krishna is an orphan raised by Sarkar (played by Suniel Shetty with a believable amount of panache and vigour). The father-son relationship is more tilted towards the teacher-student axis since Sarkar trains the young boy from the beginning. Krishna isn’t interested in getting educated, and that’s not an issue with Sarkar since he’s not setting up academic goals for the former. You don’t get to see how Krishna becomes a champion in the small town that this film is set in, which should have, rightfully, been the focus of this plot.
As soon as the movie introduces all its characters and conflicts, you know how and where this is going to end. This would have irked me if it were a thriller. Thankfully, this is an action drama, so it doesn’t matter much. But, it still worries me that three screenplay writers (Krishna, DS Kannan and Madhoo) couldn’t come up with anything other than throwing an arrogant wrestler (Rana Pratap, played by Sushant Singh) and an arrogant boxer (Tony, played by Kabir Duhan Singh) into the mix. Of course, both of them are shown their places by Krishna, but that’s not the point.
The question regarding the hero’s journey towards the destination gathers steam in such films, but what do you think is going to happen when there’s absolutely no room for awe-inspiring scenes and situations? The mass elements, when not embedded within the storytelling, become empty vessels. And, what do they say about empty vessels? They make more noise (but not the kind of noise you’d want to hear!).
If you look at the next big angle in Pailwaan, it involves the love interest Rukmini (Aakanksha Singh), who tells her friends that her father knows what’s best for her and gets engaged to someone in one scene, and, 20 minutes later, tells Krishna that she loves him. Why does she love a local wrestler? Her world is far removed from Krishna’s. And, more importantly, why are there no dialogues between the father and daughter? Naturally, the film isn’t going to dedicate time to present the woes of Rukmini, but unless you understand her stance, you won’t really know why she falls for somebody she wouldn’t have made an eye contact with, in the first place.
There’s a scene, where Rukmini yells, “Ree, ree” helplessly in the third act, as she sees her husband get beaten up by a bunch of thugs. Her daughter is also in danger (spoiler alert: she’s not going to swoop in and save the day). At that precise moment, I had the same urge to shout, “Ree, ree”, albeit at the director!
However, Pailwaan swings right back up with what it sets out to do. And, the message it highlights is grander than the stage it has built. This particular soul-churning component isn’t the core of the movie, but I wish it were! It’s sort of a big surprise that between all the moustache-twirling and thigh-slapping, there’s indeed something for you to chew you on. If not for that terrific sub-story, Pailwaan would have probably drifted towards the black hole.