Saala Khadoos delivers a knockout performance

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When it comes to Guru-Shishya stories, especially when they belong to different genders, our films have this tendency of falling into the trap of love (Sur, where the teacher Lucky Ali falls for his student, Gauri Karnik and later getting into ‘Abhimaan’ mode) or delving into the Dronacharya-Eklavya plot (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, where Vikram Gokhale asks Salman to sacrifice his love as his Guru-dakshina).

Well, Saala Khadoos, directed by Sudha Kongara, does tick the must-haves of a guru-shishya or sports film, but with maturity that knows where the film is ought to head forth – the final round (Which happens to be the title of its Tamil version, Irudhi Suttru).

Madhavan plays the titular role, a failed boxing coach who wears arrogance as a badge and doesn’t mince words, but often silently bears the cross of promoting a raw talent, fiercely attacks his corrupt senior, but humbly bows to him when there’s no other way out. It’s a character with multiple layers and R. Madhavan makes it believable to the hilt.

After all, it takes a lot of maturity to step aside and give way to the other actor the opportunity to rise and shine (Just the way he did in Tanu Weds Manu to let Deepak Dobriyal and Kangna Ranaut walk away with all the glory).

This brings us to Ritika Singh, who is undoubtedly set to be reckoned as one of the finest discoveries this year. The actress, essaying the role of a ‘fish-seller boxer’, Madhi exudes raw charm, zeal, anger, frustration, love and determination with the ease of a veteran, despite being her first film. The moment she appears on the screen; you’re already rooting for her to reach the highest echelons of women’s boxing.

Writer-director Sudha Kongara conjures up moments of varied hues, be it ‘dance like no one’s watching’, ‘cry like this is end of the world’, ‘fight like there’s nothing called death’, or ‘rebel like the world is waiting for you to change it’. The Guru-Shishya duo emerge as winners all across these scenes.

Cinematographer Sivakumar Vijayan captures the essence of the film with a curious eye and editor Sathish Suriya cuts the film with a deft hand and a no-nonsense approach. Santhosh Narayan’s music blends into the narrative with a seamless ease and a surprised restraint in using music instruments.

Actors like Zakir Hussain as the corrupt Association Head, Mamta Sorcar as Madhi’s sister and rival boxer, Nasser as ‘Punch’ Pandian – the junior coach with a unique logic of drinking country liquor with liver fry, the genteel MK Raina as a senior coach – the terrific ensemble of talents add the much-needed vigour to a screenplay that maneuvers its way through the trappings of sports film clichés, yet making you smile in the final round. Genghis Khan will never remain the same.

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