Combining sports and politics is not an easy thing to do. But then it’s not that difficult either considering the two are inextricably intertwined specially in the Asian sub-continent where Pakistani cricketers are forbidden from participating in Indian sports events and Indians don’t get visas to visit across the border.
Debutant director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan dares to visit the forbidden territory. Lahore is about sports and politics and characters from both the spheres getting embroiled in a terrible fight to finish.
The script accommodates a great deal of the sporting spirit as seen in the perspective of Indo-Pak politics. Within that ambitious framework Chauhan weaves in the human relationships that make a leap for warmth and then stay stuck in semi-sterility. The film has too much to say on sports, politics and human nature. It isn’t able to say all of it in a lucid language.
Chauhan has chosen a unique sport like kickboxing to spotlight the process of cultural assimilation that underscores all the perverse politicking that goes on at the surface level between the two countries.
The Indian and Pakistani coaches played by Farouq Shaikh and Sabyasachi Chakavarty are seen to be sportingly at loggerheads, a bit like the coaches in Yashraj Films’ Dil Bole Hadippa, though Lahore takes the spirit of sportsmanship across the border with more seriousness of purpose.
In the boxing ring the game gets deadly when the Indian kickboxing champion Sushant Singh is delivered a deadly blow by his Pakistani opponent. A churning-point in the narrative arrived at in restrained rhythms.
This is where Chauhan’s narratives comes into its own. The dilemma of the deceased kickboxer’s younger brother Veeru (newcomer Aanaahad) to preserve his sporting spirit in the midst of high-voltage mutually-destructive Indo-Pak politics is built into the plot with architectural astuteness. Not all of the material outside the central conflict where Veeru forsakes cricket to pursue his slain brother’s dream in the kickboxing arena, works on the scripting level.
Does Veeru only want to use the boxing ring to avenge his brother’s death?
Though the characters falter in quantitative excess, the opposition of sports and politics and politics in sports is put into a persuasive perspective. The rest of drama tends to get tedious mainly because there are too many characters swarming the Indo-Pak map. We see people from both countries trooping in to scarcely record their presence in the plot before dissolving in the unresolved space that occupies the No Man’s Land.
Veeru’s romantic attachment to the Pakistani girl (newcomer Shraddha Das) is skirted across in a few scenes where they exchange veiled pleasantries. Passion is seriously forfeited in the flurry of squeezing in a large canvas of characters.
It’s in the kickboxing scenes that the film exudes blood sweat and tears. The debutant Aanahaad and his opponent Mukesh Rishi reveal a skill in the ring that cannot leave the audience unaffected. The newcomer does well in the sports scenes but needs to brush up his skills in the emotional moments.
Of the rest of the cast Nafisa Ali, Ashish Vidyarthi, the late Nirmal Pandey and several other talented actors are wasted in sketchy roles. The film’s surface is over-populated. But its inner life suggests a sincerity of purpose. Wayne Sharpe’s background score and Neelabh Kaul’s cinematography are first-rate. They add to the feeling of a film that goes beyond sports, but stops short of making a statement on life lived on the border of hostility.
Lahore is not only about kick-boxing. At times you wish it was.