Cast: Vishwa, Narain
2019 may have been the Chinese Year Of The Pig, but in Tamil cinema, it has been the year of the underdog…the sports film underdog to be more specific. Last year ended with Kanaa, the story of a village girl trying to make it to the national cricket team. Since then, we've had protagonists in all shapes and sizes competing in all sorts of sports to achieve their dream.
To give you some perspective, Champion is the third football film to hit the big screen in the past two months, the most recent one being Kathir's Jada. Apart from that, we also had another football film..something about a female football team and their hard-of-hearing coach. Can't remember it's name but I think it rhymes with 'vigil'.
But the real whistle-worthy achievement this year has to be that one person has either written or directed as many as three sports films, that too one after the other. If the grapevine is to be believed, this director is busy researching his next sports drama, one that's meant especially for the A-centre multiplex audience. Unreliable sources suggest that he's conflicted between a Chennai-based film on curling and the extremely popular sport of croquet.
Either ways, this future film isn't going to take too long to either write or direct, because Suseenthiran has now become more cookie-cutter, less one-of-Tamil-cinema's-most-exciting-directors. His latest Champion, starring newcomer Vishwa (who, apparently, already has his set of fans), is no different because what it is, is a barrage of sports movie cliches. So we get the boy who wants to become a footballer, his mother who doesn't want him anywhere near the ball, his slain father who couldn't become a footballer and the passionate coach who believes in the boy more than he does himself. The only real flavour this film adds to these super-generic beats is how Jones' (Vishwa) story is set in North Madras.
Early on, when Jones visits a fancy coaching institute, the coach there asks him where he's from. He says Vyasarpadi, only for the coach to associate Jones with all the stereotypes, you know which ones I'm talking about…drugs, gangs, drinking. But, it's not like the film stays clear of these stereotypes either, because midway, the football angle gets benched for a revenge story involving a local politician.
You can see how hard the film tries to get us to see the real conflict in Jones' life. He has to choose between the knife, which means sharing the same fate as his father; or the ball, a one-way ticket to a better life, albeit at the cost of his pride. But we never feel his anger. We never feel like shouting, "Thambi don't do it" when he's going to pick up a knife. We hardly even know him. Even the characters around him are so plainly written. The mother keeps crying, the coach keeps inspiring, the lover keeps sticking by him, etc…
I've always been a fan of how Suseenthiran shoots his love montages, and here too we get a decent one set to the lovely Arrol Corelli song 'Manathin Saalayil'. We also get a half-decent fight scene that moves through an entire block. But, the rest of the film is so indifferently written and staged that it feels like a film shot with a handycam before work actually began. It's high time we 'sub' Suseenthiran with the man who made Naan Mahaan Alla.