Saala Khadoos review: R Madhavan is the only saving grace

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Saala Khadoos
Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad
Cast: R Madhavan, Ritika Singh, Zakir Hussain, Mumtaz Sorcar
Rating: 2/5

Truth be told, we fell for the pre-release hype of R Madhavan’s Saala Khadoos -- it claimed to be based on ‘true life events’, had Rajkumar Hirani as the producer, and was to cast a ‘real’ boxer playing the lead character of a pugilist. But, Saala Khadoos fails on all counts and more.
It didn’t help that comparisons were made with Chak De!, Million Dollar Baby and Mary Kom, for this film is not a sports drama. In fact, Saala Khadoos is your run-of-the-mill story of coach and his student.

The movie starts on a high note – Adi Tomar (R Madhavan) is an obnoxious, cynical boxer-turned-coach, wronged time and again by the federation chief (Zakir Hussain) and a corrupt system crumbling from political interference.
A high-octane sequence establishes the enmity between Madhavan and Hussain. And that is all the energy the movie manages to pack into it. What follows is over-the-top melodrama aimed at playing to the gallery.

Madhavan is transferred to Chennai from Hissar where he struggles to make peace with his new life. The predictability of the screenplay is irritating, down to the introduction of Ritika Singh, the heroine. Sudha Kongara Prasad fails as director, blurring the tricky thin line between a relatable narrative and a clichéd one.

Throw in the typical sexist stereotype: a bored, disgruntled coach yawning through the women boxers’ selection. Clearly, he feels obligated to be unimpressed with the local junior coach’s (Nassar) prized boxer, touted as India’s next big boxer. But of course she loses as her opponent had political connections.

Infuriated at the injustice done to her sister, Madhi (Ritika), starts attacking the judges. Some slo-mo action moves, loud music and static camera movements help the audience realize much sooner than the coach that Madhi is the dream talent he’s been looking for. Did you just say the sequence reminded you of an Ekta Kapoor serial? We thought so too.
But what good is a melodrama without a complicated *groan* love story? So there’s the forced romantic angle between Madhi and the rude-but-caring-and-dedicated coach (Oh, so that’s why the movie title!)
Saala Khadoos could have been a far better film if it had better conviction. There are some strong dialogues commenting on the involvement of politics, sexual harassment and corruption, but these get lost in an emotionally overburdened narrative.

The only saving grace is the actors: Madhavan looks every bit the disgruntled coach and totally takes the cake when it comes to hurtling abuses – if nothing else, his acting justifies the film’s title. Zakir Hussain also slips into his role as a lecherous, scheming and influential man. In comparison, Ritika Singh falls a little short in her debut performance, but even she has her moments.
Apart from the acting, the comic dialogues and sequences, though sparse, keep you entertained in bits and parts. Sample some of them:
When the junior coach boasts of Laxmi’s skills during a match she eventually loses, Madhavan says, “Tumhare Lux mein koi aag nahi, sirf jhaag hi jhaag hai”.
During one of their drinking sessions, Nassar orders a second round of livers and when Madhavan stops him, he retorts, “Sir, health ke liye. Daaru peene se liver kharab hota hai. Aur daaru ke saath ye liver khaane se ye liver kharab hota hai aur apna liver safe!”
But these moments are too few in the film to leave any impact.
Yes, avoid this grumpy drama if you are looking for a good sports film. If you must, watch it for Madhavan’s power-packed performance.