Sarfira ticks all the right must-watch boxes

Saurabh Goyal, Radhikka Madan, Krishnaswamy Balasubramaniam and Akshay Kumar in Sarfira. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

It’s a no-brainer that we have had a surfeit of biopics of late: Sarfira is the eighth such film in the seventh month of the year. It is another obvious fact that Akshay Kumar has acted in the maximum such movies over the years, more than anyone else—big name or small.

And Akshay Kumar does it with elan, and being a health freak, minus traumatic experiences like losing or gaining muscle / weight and with just minimum changes in hair and anything physical. Such has been this man’s journey from Airlift in 2016 to Mission Raniganj last year.

But while some films like Airlift, Rustom and Kesari resonated with the people, some others failed or did just average business (Pad Man). And this once-prolifically successful star is now reeling under a long phase of flops.

It is in this context that Sarfira (being an uninteresting albeit apt title) must be examined—that is, whether it will reverse his, and ditto the industry’s—dwindling fortunes. As a movie, it certainly deserves a watch, for it ticks all the right boxes.

2024, in particular, is witness to the biopic that can be admired but not expected to weave magic at the box-office like a Dangal, Airlift or Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior did in the past: in fact, Maidaan, Chandu Champion and Srikanth were all likeable films that went nowhere at the box-office as they could not gratify the audience in the theatres. Two more films, Amar Singh Chamkila and Maharaj, were brilliant and entertaining but were released direct-to-digital. It is in this milieu that Sarfira fares brilliantly.

A disclaimer in the end rolling credits states that the film is inspired by many stories on aviation. But the fact remains that director and co-writer Sudha Kongara has based this movie, the Hindi version of her multiple National Awards-winning Tamil film, Soorarai Pottru (which means ‘Salute the Brave’), largely on Capt. Gorur Ramaswamy Iyengar Gopinath’s autobiography, Simply Fly: A Deccan Odyssey. This is also acknowledged through sldies and photos within the film. This includes changing the settings (as in locations) for the Hindi version, in which the hero is Vir Mhatre (Akshay Kumar) from Maharashtra, son of a humble village teacher (Ravi Khanvilkar).

Sudha follows the core triumphant tale of a young man who dreamt of making everyone fly by starting an affordable low-cost airline. He is scorned and laughed at and derided by his father, and soon, circumstances makee him leave home, enroll in the Indian Air-Force, resign from there later and single-mindedly pursue his dream.

The film opens dramatically with one of his flights necessitating an emergency landing, and we later come to know that this was just one of many ploys that influential magnates, feeling threatened by his idea, employed to bring him down—literally and figuratively. We also have a glimpse into his personal life—he has rejected many girls, one of whom, Rani (Radhikka Madan), who wants to start her own bakery, insists on meeting him despite the rejection. The two bond well, but neither is ready to get hitched before they have achieved their aim in life.

Quite naturally, Rani soon starts her bakery, but for Vir, it’s a terrible trudge as he keeps meeting with insults, humiliations and even betrayals at every step. Bereft of the one thing that is most important—big money—he devises legal ways out of every difficulty, only to meet fresh hurdles and opposition. As he is earning a living, he later marries Rani. She becomes one of his firm backers and supporters. Vir has also earned the backing of his village, including his widowed mother (Seema Biswas), and his motivation has multiplied as he has not had the resources to fly down to meet his now-repentant father one last time. His father has declared to his wife that their son will always achieve what he has set out to do.

The rest of the film is all about how Vir overcomes inimical forces, including human, and sees his dreams fructify. Though the unique low-cost airline that Gopinath launched, first tied up with the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines, folded up in the pandemic and could not be revived again, it had once ranked as the No. 2 airline within a few years of its entering the field, and proved the inspiration for other Indian low-cost airlines, though this is one zone the movie does not cover.

But that is fine. For Sarfira (the title refers to Vir’s single focus on following a mad thought and his moody temperament) is a tale of human determination, entrepreneurship and grit. Sudha Kongara and her scriptwriting team dwell also on incorporating drama, lots of humor and interesting facets to the movie, like the main antagonist, Paresh Goswami (Paresh Rawal), modeled on a famous aviation magnate who tried to sabotage the real dreamer Gopinath.

A cluster of terrific performances enhance the 2.35 hour narration that could perhaps have been shortened a wee bit: Akshay Kumar is nothing short of phenomenal as Vir, exploring the smallest nuance of his character with effortless, in fact, awesome expertise. This must rank among his five finest performances of all time.

Radhikka Madan is also wonderful as the spirited yet eccentric Rani. Paresh Rawal, in his first negative turn in a long while, can best be described with the layman’s conversational hosanna for anything—“He is too good!” Seema Biswas, Ravi Khanvilkar and everyone else is outstanding—Vir’s old friend (Anil Charanjeett), Krishnaswamy Balasubramaniam and Saurabh Goyal as Vir’s loyal associates, R. Sarath Kumar as Vir’s acerbic coach in the Air Force, Rahul Vohra as the corrupt government official and Jay Upadhyay as Rani’s maternal uncle. The actors who play Rani’s parents (Ashok Lokhande and Purva Parag), Prakash Belawadi as the man who first encourages Vir, and the other minor players too shine.

G.V. Prakash Kumar’s background score is unobtrusively effective and his songs, especially Chaawat and Maar udi, go well with the narrative—he is the person we first heard of as a child singer in the song Kuch kuchi Rakamma in Bombay almost three decades ago. The rest of the songs by Tanishk Bagchi and Suhit Abhyankar are forgettable.

Technically upscale, the film is beautifully directed by Sudha Kongara and deserves every success. In these days of dull / substandard / dull and substandard movies that do not care for audiences’ value for money, this is a rare film that does. Just as Gopinath dreamt of, and Vir does so here, it is fare for the common man as well.

Rating: ****

Cape of Good Films’, Abunduntia Entertainment’s & 2D Entertainment’s Sarfira  Produced by: Aruna Bhatia, Vikram Malhotra, Jyothika & Suriya  Directed by: Sudha Kongara  Written by: Sudha Kongara, Shalini Ushadevi & Pooja Tolani  Music: G.V. Prakash Kumar, Tanishk Bagchi & Suhit Abhyankar  Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhikka Madan, Seema Biswas, Paresh Rawal, Ravi Khanvilkar, Anil Charanjeett, Krishnaswamy Balasubramaniam, Saurabh Goyal, R. Sarath Kumar, Rahul Vohra, Jay Upadhyay, Ashok Lokhande, Purva Parag, Prakash Belawadi & others




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