Bollywood review: ‘Khwaabb’ spins off sporting controversies in India

A still from Bollywood film 'Khwaabb'.

Clad in a traditional salwar-kameez, a petite girl jumps into a river to fish out the coins thrown in during a holy celebration, putting a gang of young boys to shame.

The spectators are amused by her swift moves in the water, but not her father, who continuously abuses her for wanting an independent life. His anger is evident when he finds his girl in the midst of an impromptu song-and-dance celebration to mark the debut of a television set.

Kiran finds an unlikely saviour in Ram Prasad, a stop-watch dangling sports coach, to help her escape the miserable life dictated by her father.

She finds an unlikely companion in her journey when her admirer Sanjay pursues her to the sporting academy. His journey also takes an unlikely turn, when his impeccable athletic acumen is discovered.

Both their lives undergo a complete make-over, as they work relentlessly to excel and win medals. Their innocence and financial weakness pose hurdles and strips them of what’s rightfully theirs. But, their grit and passion refuses to die despite the cynicism.

Debutante director Zaid Ali Khan picks an incredible story to tell, but he’s unable to tie in the various elements convincingly.

While Khan attempts to touch every topic that troubles the Indian sporting community – from corrupt officials in the top sporting committees, to the blatant misuse of power, to substance abuse, to scandals and insufficient sporting funds – he’s unable to delve into any one issue substantially.

The allegations and accusations are aplenty, but none that are weaved into a coherent story. In reality, these issues are grave, no doubt, but attempting to tackle them all in one movie appears overambitious.

In fact, the first part of the 90-minute screen time is wasted in an unnecessary love triangle, leaving little scope for any real problem to be addressed. The sleazy swimming coach poses a real threat, but that story is handled haphazardly.

Even the sport – swimming and athletics – is treated cosmetically, at least in the first half, with little insight on the skills. That, however, changes after seasoned actor Nafisa Ali makes an entry as the resolute swimming coach.

The story of a sports trainer scouting for talent when there is little fund to train the handful who’ve already enrolled, or the conflicts that lead to the couple’s escape from their village is sketchy.

Despite the obvious flaws, ‘Khwaabb’ works predominately due to a tight edit and a cast that’s devoid of any Bollywood baggage. And, that proves to be the strength, unveiling some genuinely imposing performances. First-timers Simar Motiani and Navdip Singh work their magic.

Simar effortlessly slips into the coy small-towner, whose insecurities and ambition are realistically captured. While she hesitates to wear the swimsuit for it reveals more skin than she’s comfortable with, she doesn’t shy away from slapping a coach for crossing the line. She works her body well and displays incredible strength and power.

While ‘Khwaabb’ favours Simar over Navdip in the story, his performance is far more imposing than hers. His versatility is evident as he transforms from a naïve small-towner, who is ambitionless and lives for his childhood sweetheart, to someone who realises his true worth and willingly sacrifices for love.

Even the camera work, underwater and on the track, is impressive. A little more technical finesse would’ve gone a long way in making an impact. It’s Zaid’s father and Arjuna awardee ace shooter Moraad Ali Khan who steps in as the producer and provides the canvas for this sporting drama.

Towards the end of the drama, when the coach announces his helplessness with; “In the race to win medals, I forgot to make money,” you sense the frustration and helplessness of the sportspersons in the country.

Despite its imperfections, it's a small movie with a big heart, one that we must all applaud and endorse. Go on, make a difference!

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