There have been many Indian movies about the country’s fraught relationship with Pakistan. It is only natural, given their history. This week’s movie, Lahore, addresses the relationship more directly, and hints at the possibility of reconciliation. It is also a story about sports and how sometimes, sports can be either an alternative to war or become war itself. And it is one of the first Indian movies that I watched.
Free on Youtube.
And, let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, there are scenes with songs in them. They are, however, not song-and-dance scenes, just gentle montages of people doing things, not much different than in many Western non-musicals. The song-and-dance numbers will have to wait for the next Indian movie I talk about. At 136 minutes, this movie is…well, not short, but relatively short for an Indian movie, and not much of the running time is filler in my opinion.
This is the story of two brothers, Dheerender and Veerender. They both used to do kickboxing, but Veerender eventually took up professional cricket. When we first meet them, Dheeru has just won his first bout against a five-time national champion and gets snatched up by the coach for the Kickboxing Federation of India to compete in the Asian Kickboxing Championship in Malaysia, and perhaps in the Goodwill Kickboxing Tournament in Lahore between India and Pakistan as well. I don’t know if such a rise is very realistic, but whatever. At the same time, Veeru has finally scored a century, which is…apparently good enough for him to get a little bit of flirting time with a visiting Pakistani sports psychiatrist named Ida.
By complete coincidence (or is it destiny?), Ida is the niece of the Pakistani kickboxing coach and is part of the team as an intern. This brings her into direct contact with Dheeru’s Pakistani competitor, Noor. She worries about his mental state and the way he is approaching the sport, but her uncle shuts her down, determined that Noor win the Asian Kickboxing Championship regardless of the physical or emotional toll.
Dheeru and his fiancée Neela head to Malaysia, as do Ida and Noor. While Neel and Ida strike up a friendship, Dheeru and Noor prepare to face each other in the Championship.
Okay, it was actually kind of difficult to summarize since the story seems to amble a bit for the first third and, like many Indian movies, this one takes a real turn about halfway through. While I have dropped a few vague hints, the movie itself telegraphs what is to come pretty hard at points. While the first twist pretty much laid out what was to come, the other twist really threw me. It made for a more satisfying viewing, though the film laid it on a little thick.
Anyone coming into this movie expecting broad comedy acting is going to be disappointed. The character of Neela is played a bit broadly at first (which annoyed me), but…let’s just say that she gets significantly more serious soon enough. There are a few brief visual effects that stand out for being distracting and completely unnecessary. I will not spoil them here, because the element of surprise made them a little amusing to me.
The portrayal of Pakistanis in the movie is a bit of a mixed bag. Ida is a sympathetic character, but pretty much all of the other major characters are obsessed with winning at any cost, including fighting dirty. No one is played up as outright evil or cruel, which I suppose should not really be a point in the film’s favor, but is still something to note. It is also a bit telling, though not too surprising, that the one Indian character who is portrayed as somewhat less than noble is dark skinned and, I’ll be honest, looks like a toad person. Amusingly enough, none of the Indian characters save for that one are significantly darker skinned than the Pakistani characters, but let’s not pretend that American movies are all that much better when it comes to actors’ skin tones. This is one of those Indian movies that looks at the India-Pakistan conflict and concludes that things could be okay if those Pakistanis simply realized how mean they were being and how much they made Indians angry. Yeah, not exactly challenging stuff for an Indian audience or a message that would play well in Pakistan, but this was one of the better ones of the lot that I have seen. Or maybe I just feel that way because this was one of the first that I saw. Either way, it is not quite as simplistic as I am making it sound.
Indian movies have a…reputation…that may not be entirely inaccurate, but I feel that it is a bit unfair to act as if they are a completely alien being when compared to films from the West. This movie avoids a few stereotypes about Bollywood movies, though it is not a complete Bollywood anomaly. In any case, I quite enjoyed this movie. For those who are reluctant to start watching Indian films due to their reputation, Lahore might be a relatively safe and enjoyable introduction. And, if nothing else, it got me to look up the word “chit” before The Daily Show made fun of it.
WTF ASIA 5: Hard Boiled (Hong Kong: 1992, approx. 128 minutes)
Free on Youtube. TO BE SCREENED ON RABBIT FRIDAY MAY 18 AT 10:00
WTF ASIA 6: Hellcats (South Korea: 2008, approx. 112 minutes)