Director: Girish Malik
Producer: Raju Chadha, Rahul Mittra, Puneet Singh, Girish Malik
Writer:Girish Malik, Bharti Jakhar
Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Nargis Fakhri, Rahul Dev
Streaming Platform: Netflix
A distant gaze animates this 2 hour long film set in Afghanistan- it begins with gliding drone-shots of a pristine town blessed in the shadows of the Hindu Kush, and it retains this distance for the rest of the film. Gun fights and bomb blasts play out at a safe mile away from the camera- as a viewer you are never made to feel like you are in the thick of things.
This bird’s eye view also extends to how the film deals with its characters. Nasser Khan (Sanjay Dutt), reeling from the death of his wife and child in a suicide bomb blast, trains the children of the refugee camp to play cricket- first, as a tool to distract them from fundamentalist proclivities of child suicide bombing, but also to inject them with the much lacking sense of cohesion and self-confidence. Nasser’s entire flashback of despair comes in a flash, and just goes by, with no feeling or staging, and thus no lingering impact.
Which is the next big problem with the film. Writer, director Girish Malik does not know how to stage a scene- the build-up, tension, and let-down are all bunged into the inert gaze of the distant camera. It’s the visual equivalent of a voice-over explaining things in a monotone. This could have passed if at least the writing was persuasive, and observant, but it’s too distracted to make any point.
There are two genres playing out in this film. One is Nasser trying to get the kids from the refugee camp to play and win against the kids of the Cricket Academy. This is the sports film, replete with the internal politics of a team, and the training montage- both of which have that aforementioned distant, badly-staged quality that evokes no pump. The second genre playing out is a political drama where Nasser is attempting to convince the local kids, recruited by Qazar (Rahul Dev in a role that is as much caricature as it is empty) as child suicide bombers, to reconsider.
An ambitious mix of genres is always exciting, but there must be some convincing, exciting kernel that binds this intersection. Here it is Sanjay Dutt who is clearly a good actor stuck in a bad context- when you first see him, you can see that he is sad, but you don’t know why, and when you find out the reason, you are just not able to reach out to him because the telling of his tragic past is so wispy. This is an exceptional problem because Dutt is made to emote the range- from despondent to delight, and he doesn’t miss a beat. But there is just no saving the charisma from the rubble.
Torbaaz, the sports film is plotted predictably, with a dollop of contrivance. The inner fights- between the Pashtuns, the Hazaras, and the Pathans- is solved with a cloying immediacy. The constant harking of the “children are innocent” line of thought is exhausting. Nargis Fakhri comes and goes as the kids’ cheerleader. Torbaaz, the political film is a doomed mess from the get-go with the shifts in timelines and the contextless scenes of military, militant, and Dutt.
But ultimately the film fails because of its inability to give the catharsis that either a political drama or a sports drama require. There is a pat conclusion to this pat tale that just doesn’t push the narrative in any new or nice direction. The film ends with a message written out. But in a visual medium, you must earn the right to read a screen. And Torbaaz isn’t even half-way there.