Cast: Suniel Shetty, Kichcha Sudeep, Aakanksha Singh
Ratings: 3 Moons
Filmmaker Krishna’s Pehlwaan that opens in five languages (four of the South, and Hindi) is a simple, heartwarming tale of an aggressive orphan boy who gets into street fights (three-against-one) to make money and feed other homeless kids like himself. He gets noticed by a kindly retired wrestling champion and coach Sarkar (Suniel Shetty in one of the best roles of his career) and adopted. Sarkar, who is a bachelor, aims is to train this boy to become the national wrestling champion.
The years pass by and the boy is now a tall young man named Kichcha (played by Kannada superstar Kichcha himself) with straggly hair and a ripped, athletic body who is on his way to becoming the national wrestling champion. But there’s evil happening simultaneously in the form of the local Maharaja Rana (Sushant Singh) who is King of The Ring himself and a bad, arrogant man besides. Kichcha must defeat Rana. There’s also another parallel story in a boxing ring where a gora fighter named Tony (Kabeer Dhuhan Singh) kills his opponents with rabbit punches to the neck that breaks the cervical cord.
Kichcha, meanwhile, saves Rukmini (Aakanksha Singh – a wealthy merchant’s daughter engaged to be married) from a gang of roughnecks in a no-holds-barred fight in a temple and love develops. When she elopes to marry him, the merchant drags Sarkar’s good name through the mud and accuses the family of being after his wealth. Enraged, Sarkar disowns Kichcha, casts him out of the house, and bans him from using the style and techniques he taught him in wrestling. But Kichcha and Rukmini survive in the bad world, he by doing any odd job while she manages their small home and daughter Jaanu.
Rana is seething for revenge. He wants a return title bout. And a boxing coach is in search of a fighter who will teach Tony a lesson. Kichcha is their man. But he isn’t interested in fighting anymore. Until his daughter gets kidnapped by Rana and he sets out to get her back. It all ends well, of course, but not without a lot of maara-maari in wrestling sandpits and the boxing ring. Sarkar, who comes to Kichcha’s rescue in Rana’s den, forgives him and takes him back. Kichcha trains to be a boxer so that he might win the Rs. 10 crore prize money and take care of the orphans who work as child labourers at a building site he was employed with. Here the director has tried to infuse some of the underdog taking a shot at the title from Rocky. The training montage and fight in the ring is certainly influenced by Sylvester Stallone’s Hollywood franchise but is far from the real deal.
The film tends to drag a good bit in the middle. Especially during scenes with Kichcha and the orphaned kids. There are also songs. And these are choreographed and shot as only the South can – with hundreds of extras aggressively dancing in the background, three sets of change of costume, loud music, dazzling colours. Kichcha Sudeep, who is a sensation in Sandalwood (the Kannada film industry), makes his impression easily and lazily. It is Suniel Shetty who is really impressive. His is a strong and silent presence in the film. His expression says it all. And when he hitches up his dhoti and gets into action, you wish there was more of him.
PeepingMoon.com gives Pehlwaan 3 Moons.