Banners: RRR Motion Pictures, Zee Studios
Producers: Swapna Krishna
Cast: Kichcha Sudeepa, Suniel Shetty, Aakanksha Singh, Sushant Singh, Appanna
Music: Arjun Janya
Let us take you back to a lazy Sunday, one of those when your family after a happy lunch, curls up on a cosy sofa set before the television and settles for some dubbed version of a South Indian film. You are nudged into a make-believe world where villains are tossed up in the air and the hero, the messiah, is literally a larger-than-life figure because of all the low angle camera shots. You are made to forget about the daily rut of life. Pehlwaan is one of those films. It is a guilty pleasure, one that you might enjoy momentarily but will soon forget.
Set in Gajendragadh, Pehlwaan is the story of Krishna, also known as Kichcha, a wrestler under the tutelage of Sarkar. When he was a young orphan, Sarkar had adopted him and raised him like his own son. He trained him to become a capable wrestler. Extremely protective of him, Sarkar made sure that Krishna does not deviate from his ambition of winning the National Wrestling Championship by indulging in frivolities. But as destiny would have it, Krishna falls in love with and gets married to Rukmini, the daughter of a rich businessman. All hell breaks loose when Sarkar finds out about them and asks him to leave his house and give up on wrestling. There is a parallel track that goes on where an angry and reckless boxer, King Tony kills his opponent in a match and a ban of five years is placed on him. Thrown into the mix is a cunning king, Raja Rana Pratap Singh. How these tracks come together forms the rest of the story.
Slapstick humour that mostly does not land, melodramatic but whistle-worthy dialogue-baazi, Sudeepa’s magnanimity, slow motion walks and action sequences and a sudden burst of song-and-dance sequences like the pre-monsoon showers is Pehlwaan for you in a nutshell.
Cinematographer Karunakar A deserves a special mention for all the low angle camera shots. The film is peppered with too many of them and though they bring out the lead actors’ larger-than-life flamboyance, they do get repetitive. Almost every scene featuring Sudeepa and Shetty and even the antagonists begin with these shots.
While all the songs are shot in a rather opulent way, they randomly and suddenly pop up and hinder the flow of the narrative. Doing away with the songs might have resulted in a crispier film. The background score, which is supposed to amplify the drama, the romance, the action and the comic quotient, is deafening in more places than one. Considering the genre of the film and the need to keep it loud, vibrant and colourful, there is still no explanation as to why the score sounds so cantankerous.
At 2 hours and 46 minutes, the film is too long. The filmmaker has taken his own sweet time to dive into the focus of the narrative. He has incorporated several sub plots and they unfold at an extremely languorous pace. Krishna has touched upon social issues plaguing the society such as child labour and the lack of opportunities faced by poor children who aspire to become sportspersons. Because of this, the film goes astray and takes a long time to return to square one. It is only towards the last quarter of the second half that Pehlwaan starts focusing on what it had originally set out to achieve.
The writing by Krishna keeps meandering and it will keep you wondering about the goal that the film and its characters want to accomplish. However you do not have to wrack your brain which is both a good and a bad thing - you can sit and spend your time predicting what awaits you and give yourself points but there is really nothing to look forward to. Most of the comic lines belong to Appanna but they mostly fall flat and ironically, this is something that you will crack you up time and again.
In one scene, Raja Rana Pratap Singh says, ‘Shaadi ke ghar mein dulha bhi main, maatam ke ghar mein murda bhi main’. And you know that you are in for a fatal rollercoaster ride. There is also a chasm between both tracks in the film, further failing to keep one engaged. Krishna also resorts to mythical allusions and draws a rather uninspiring analogy between Lord Krishna and the character essayed by Sudeepa. Mythical references about the how fire, wind and water are instrumental in bringing two soul mates together might make you burst into peals of laughter but they take the narrative nowhere.
Do not even attempt to intellectualise Pehlwaan. Watch it with a judgement-free mind and you might just end up enjoying and rooting for it. If you have an idle weekend and have nothing to do, you might as well give it a shot.
Performance-wise, Kichcha Sudeepa as Krishna is in top form. With Pehlwaan, he is sure to send his fans into a tizzy yet again. His dialogue delivery, body language and power-packed wrestling and combat scenes are sure to make you hoot, whistle and clap. Suniel Shetty as Sarkar is charming. He brings an unflinching dignity to the table and a fine balance to the otherwise gregarious Sudeepa. Aakanksha Singh as Rukmini is good but she does not have a strong role. Even in the emotionally heavier and few important scenes, she has nothing much to offer. Sushant Singh as Raja Rana Pratap Singh is decent. Appanna as Hamla Pappu has nothing much to do in the second half of the film.