Nagesh Kukunoor has finally landed that almost perfect ball, it may not be Shane Warne's ball of the century, but with Iqbal he seems to have figured out his line and length moving at last out of his amateur, almost home video style of filmmaking on to do what he had given up his lucrative software career in the United States for - making decent films. While it's true that Kukunoor has picked a topic that won more than half the battle for him i.e. a handicapped person realising his dream- the triumph of the human spirit and the sport he picked was cricket, a comfort zone for almost all of the country, it would be grossly unfair to say that this alone helped the film be the little gem that it is.
The film is about the struggle of a deaf and dumb boy who dreams of nothing less than wearing the premier fast bowler of the country one day, a jaded and faded cricketer who has been given a chance to redeem himself, a young girl who sees the same dreams her brother does, a mother who is willing to go to any length to help her son realize his dream, a father who cannot understand his sons passion and the upholders of a system that has helped ruin many a promising cricket career.
The script is almost flawless and has some wonderfully written dialogues. The stilted writing that has become a trademark with offbeat cinema is thankfully missing almost in totality. The humorous moments in the film are genuinely funny and the only bad joke in the film is even apologized for. The film actually builds itself up rather well from an admittedly terrible opening five minutes to an exhilarating last five. If the script lacks in any area it is the absolutely convenient resolution to the 'fixing' problem at the end, too convenient and too, too naive and simplistic, in fact.
What makes this film rise above the trappings of the small budget film are the truly amazing performances. This truly is an ensemble of actors, each outperforming the other and yet at no point is any of them out performed. All credit to Nagesh Kukunoor for actually directing scenes where actors when not delivering dialogues don't look awkward and out of sorts. Naseeruddin Shah is brilliant as Mohit, the ex-cricketer and village drunk, but one has come to expect such performances from him and it doesn't really surprise you.. Shreyas Talpade as Iqbal played the underdog to the hilt, a role that could have been ruined by overt gesticulation and ridiculous facial movements but the boy has it down pat and hence you have a character that you not only sympathize with but also believe is true. However, the star of the film though is Iqbal's sister played by Shweta Prasad. She steals your heart from the moment she comes on to the very end. This is truly a noteworthy performance and unless we have a repeat of the National award sham of this year - we have a winner of the best actress category already. All the supporting roles are wonderfully played, with everyone getting into their character rather than vying for screen space and attention. But the most wonderful thing about the casting is that for the first time Nagesh Kukunoor thought wiser about casting himself.
On the technical side, Cinematographer, Sudeep Chatterjee has attempted to move away from the trappings of commercial Hindi cinema, but still relied rather too heavily on the crane and the unnecessary top angle at times unnecessarily inviting attention to the camera. But otherwise he is able to prove that be it the stylish Road or the big Hindi commercial film Lucky or now Iqbal, he is a cinematographer quite in tune to the needs of a film whatever its genre.
One area that needed a little more attention is the background score. Music Directors Salim-Sulaiman are much too direct and in your face taking away from the narrative. They should try and stop announcing impending situations with their music. Yes, they may have watched the film countless times when penning the score, but they should realise that the audience is actually watching it for the first time. The songs though are well integrated into the film and rather soulfully rendered by KK.
Iqbal may never become a classic, or go down in the annals of Hindi cinema as an all-time great, but there is no denying it is a wonderfully crafted piece of work. With Iqbal, one can actually forgive Nagesh Kukunoor for all his previous excursions into the world of filmmaking. One only hopes that the good reviews the film has been generating helps it to be seen by more people because finally after a long time we have a film that deserves to be seen. Kudos also to producer Subhash Ghai in producing this film. One hopes this leads to some sensitive and sensible films coming out of the Mukta films stable now.