August 26, 2011
Siddharth Kher, Adinath Kothare, Sachin Khedekar, Dalip Tahil
I wish Bollywood would make more sports films. Actor-producer Aamir Khan’s Lagaan and Chak De with Shah Rukh Khan were superhits, so too (in the low-budget arena) was Nagesh Kukunoor’s small wonder Iqbal. So clearly there’s an audience out there interested in the blood-sweat-tears-toil-and-politics-ridden lives of Indian sportspersons.
Stand By is not a slick and glossy production like these iconic works, but it’s still a captivating, moving film about the games people play in Indian sport. Rahul and Shekhar are good friends who play football for Maharashtra. Rahul is the son of a middle class bank employee (Sachin Khedekar) while Shekhar is the thoroughly spoilt kid of millionaire businessman J.P. Verma (Dalip Tahil). When Rahul is selected for the main squad at the national level and Shekhar is picked as a stand by, Big Daddy steps in to get his boy the slot he covets so much. After all, Shekhar has been brought up on the dictum that there’s nothing money can’t buy, and if he’s sulking then dad has to act.
Multiple National-Award-winning Marathi director Sanjay Surkar has a natural storytelling style. He handles his main cast well, and the casting director has picked actors who are well suited to the roles of Rahul and Shekhar. Siddharth Kher who plays Shekhar was earlier seen in the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Teen Patti. Here in a better film, he gets more scope to display his talent and comes off well as the brattish, selfish footballer. But the highlight of this film is Adinath Kothare who plays Rahul. Kothare has both acting talent and boy-next-door good looks, and will hopefully be cast in bigger films too in future. Tahil is just right as the arrogant rich man who would demand compliance from national selectors and others in power, in return for his munificence. And Sachin Khedekar is appropriately diffident and dogged by turns in the fight for his son’s future.
Surkar tells this interesting story with an insider’s eye for detail. At some level, all of us are aware of the lobbying, big money and intrigue that mars the work of sports bodies in India. But it’s still chilling to see a plan as Machiavellian as the one in which J.P. Verma threatens to take his company’s account away from the bank that Rahul’s father works for if they don’t offer their hapless employee a posting in another location, a move that would jeopardise Rahul’s footballing prospects.
In the midst of all this realism though, the director repeatedly inserts a very theatrical song-and-dance sequence that serves as an unnecessary disruption, as does an item number that should not have been there. Even the song Lad Bapu feels like it’s trying too hard to be that one hard-hitting number that could be the sports anthem emerging from the film. Stand By also seems to suffer from a limited budget that has led to a lack of finesse in the production, including in the casting of some of the satellite characters. Most of all, I’m confused by the message the film is trying to send out in the end. Sports films tend to be uplifting works filled with positivity, about men and women who dreamt the impossible dream and conquered mountains to achieve their goals. If Stand By wanted to go in the opposite direction, be more realistic and acquaint us with the hopelessness of the situation in India’s sporting structure, then it should have gone all the way. But on the one hand we have a situation where player after player rejects J.P. Verma’s offer of a bribe to play dirty games on the team, and on the other hand, Rahul’s own actions in the end (I won’t reveal exactly what) seem to suggest that the only way to survive is to match filth with filth, muck with muck. Was this what the director intended? I’m not sure.
But in spite of these reservations, I’d say Stand By exhudes a certain sincerity that I found utterly charming. It’s not a polished production but it’s got its heart in the right place. And it’s got Adinath Kothare. The film was poorly promoted and disappeared from theatres even before it was released – if you chance upon it on DVD, I’d recommend it to you.
Rating (out of five): **3/4
CBFC Rating: U without cuts
Running time: 124 MinutesLanguage: Hindi
Video courtesy: Youtube