Early yesterday morning, I read a news item in the Times of India that said that Lahore has not gotten a release across the border. Took me into the age of the cold war when Hollywood produced scores of jingoistic anti-Soviet Union films. The evolution of the Bond franchise prior to Pierce Brosnan is a prime example of this phenomenon. I wonder if any of these films were banned in the Sov-bloc. Anyways, that’s besides the point so far as the film itself is concerned but makes quite a telling point when one looks at the circumstances out of which the film was born. I’ll come to that during the conclusion of this review.
Lahore, as the trailers suggested, is a sports movie with dollops of patriotism thrown in via an Indo-Pak encounter in the ring. Now, sports is a genre that our desi filmmakers aren’t very adept at, with the exception of a stray Lagaan or a Hip Hip Hurray. Chak de India is an interesting case in point here. In spite of the copybook script and the good performances, the film never worked for me as a sports movie. But that’s another discussion for another day. Back to Lahore, when this ineptitude at the genre combines with the tightrope of Indo-Pak relations, the probability of a disaster goes very high. To debutant director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan’s credit, he walks the tightrope quite skillfully across the distance, but not before succumbing to some lesser sins in the process.
The sports aspect of the film is handled creditably. In an early dialogue that sets the tone for the treatment of the rest of the film, the coach of the Indian team announces to the press, “Sawaal cricket ko neecha dikhane ka nahi hai. Sawaal yeh hai ki hum doosre khelon ki taraf bhi tawajjo dein” (The issue is not showing cricket in a bad light. The issue is to show some attention to other sports too). And the film stays true to that dialogue throughout. Unlike Chak De India, which sought to downplay cricket quite overtly in order to show the superiority of hockey, Lahore chooses to juxtapose cricket in the plot in an interesting manner without asserting on the superiority or inferiority of one sport against another. And it spends quality time on the issue of politicos & board officials subverting sports in India. The way the coach deals with the high-handedness of the minister who is also the chairman of the Kickboxing federation, is one of the most entertaining parts of the film.
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