Well, my dears, true to my word I did indeed take part in the Striker Watchalong International Event. I'm so very glad I did, because having other Bolly-loving people to bounce reactions off of was awesome. I also learned a couple of other things, but what they basically boil down to is that Google Wave sucks. However, I offer mad props to Studio 18 for their daring marketing move of releasing the film on YouTube. I hope it proved worthwhile and profitable.
Oh, right. The movie. Striker is a slow-paced slice-of-life film, the overall feel of which reminded me of a personal favorite, Traffic Signal. The characters are finely-drawn, the production values are excellent, and the performances exemplary. The soundtrack is beautiful. Every song is lovely, and even though there are no picturizations they overlay the scenes in which they are heard perfectly. The editing is well-done and the subtitles were amazing for a Hindi movie. I enjoyed every minute of it. Every minute of it, that is, until the last fifteen, at which point the film takes a turn for the disgusting, squandering every bit of goodwill it had built up, and then spirals into a dishoom-dishoom masala excuse for a climax. To refer to it as "disappointing" is to understate the case by a degree of 100.
The plot: Surya (Siddharth, looking gorgeous, see above for proof) lives in the Mumbai suburb of Malvani with his mother, brother, and sister in 1988. Or he's growing up in the Mumbai suburb of Malvani with his brother and sister in 1977. Or he's escaping the 1992 riots in the Mumbai suburb of Malvani all by himself. The film is told in a non-linear fashion unusual in a Hindi film, and I wasn't prepared to pay close attention from the get-go, so I'll warn those of you who haven't seen it yet: pay attention.
Anyway, there's a plot where he saves up a bunch of cash to try to get to Dubai and then he loses it but then he decides to win it all back by playing carrom. That's pretty much it for story development, though. True to form for a slice-of-life flick, there's not much movement in the storyline. However, we do get a good read on every character except for Surya, from his sister--played by luminous Vidya Malvade--to his best friend Zaid (that dude who played Mamman in Slumdog Millionaire, otherwise known as Ankur Vikal) to the local goon Jaleel Bhai (Aditya Pancholi) to police inspector Farooque (Anupam Kher, turning in a lovely understated performance). Surya remains a cipher throughout the film; he is simply our vehicle into the neighborhood, with no exposition about his emotions, thoughts, or motivations. Siddharth gives us few clues as to Surya's internal life, choosing to play him as closed-off and emotionally unavailable as the stranger he is.
Zaid does drugs. Gangsters kill each others' goons. Police are by turns incompetent, corrupt, or ambitious. A love interest shows up briefly, and disappears, her only purpose seeming to be to demonstrate Surya's ability to fall for a Muslim as long as she's hot. Surya's family disapproves. His sister marries a guy from Bangalore. A young fisherwoman and barkeeper offers Surya a place to stay. He repays her by getting drunk and raping her. But it's all okay because he marries her to make up for it. More people are killed in the riots. Hired guns get what's coming to them in ludicrous masala style, complete with brainsquish sound effects. The end.
Oh, did you catch that? The thing about the sexual assault? The film treats it with about as much gravitas as the above paragraph does. That is to say, not at all. It simply serves up rape on a cheap ceramic plate with a careless thunk, shrugs, "Take it or leave it, but it's Siddharth so you'll take it," and walks away to the next table to ask if they need drink refills or the check. And no, ignorant reviewers, it is not a near-rape or an almost rape. It is A RAPE-RAPE. I cannot believe I am actually having to clarify this in the TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. (Even more appalling to me are the few reviews with nothing to say about that scene. If it didn't completely eliminate any perception of Surya as a hero, you weren't paying attention.) It was gratuitous, repellent, and utterly out of character for Surya as well. There is no previous indication that he has this sort of abusive, criminal nature in him. In short, the scene is simply poor story-telling.
Afterward, there's a wedding between Surya and the girl he assaulted. It's implied that this is him making amends for being a rapist. Surya looks like he loves her at the wedding fire. Again, I found myself disgusted. I've said this elsewhere, but, you know how my rapist could make amends for taking away my innocence, my security, my sexual and mental and physical well-being? He could turn himself in to the police, plead guilty so I wouldn't have to testify in open court, and spend his youth in prison while I moved on. Marrying me? Not so much. Surya's actions in this section do nothing to redeem him.
Siddharth's expressed hopes of putting the film in theaters in the U.S. Non-desi theaters, even. Well, Siddhu, if that's what you want, then I suggest cutting that one scene and also the head-squishing. Don't waste so much time building up sympathy for a guy who will kick viewers in the face for believing in him during the last quarter-hour. Those two elements are all that are keeping the film from working for this American woman. As it is, they ruined the entire film for me. My stomach is still sick over a day later.
Edited on March 3, 2010 to add: Beth, Kay, Stacey Yount and I all got together to discuss the parts of Striker that bothered us so much. An edited version of our discussion is at Bollyspice.com now.