Magazine article Screen International

'The Brawler': Toronto Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Brawler': Toronto Review

Article excerpt

An unsusual Indian boxing film from the director of ‘Gangs of Wasseypour’

Dir. Anurag Kashyap, India, 2017, 151 minutes

In The Brawler, Anurag Kashyap manages to pack caste inequality, corruption and a triumph over disability into a romantic melodrama built around the boxing ring. While it’s no Raging Bull, it is fun, if you’re willing to roll with the punches. Kashyap’s (Gangs of Wasseypur) latest is a time-tested tale of true grit as well as a novelty film (for India) about boxing.

The Brawler is on the progressive side of those caste and nationalist conflicts that divide India

There are enough stars in this Indian Rocky to ensure a good ride in India and among South Asian expats globally. It could even get some exposure on the more adventurous side of sports television. Prospects in the mainstream US and European markets, however, are slim for a film that, for all its earnest charm, lacks the technical polish of so many studio boxing movies.

The hero in this bout between good and evil is Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh), a low-caste boxer who is knocking around a gym where the Brahmin boss calls the shots. When he gets a glimpse of Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), niece of gangsterish Brahmin Bhagwan Das (Jimmy Shergill), head of the boxing federation (and this film’s Raging Bull), he’s in love. Soon enough, she is too. There are complications. The pretty Sunaina is mute, although she can hear. Far worse, her ruthless, childless uncle forbids her to see the low-caste fighter.

The Brawler is a love story, but it’s also a family saga, with a cast of relatives under the thumb of Bhagwan Das and henchmen who beat boxers and family into submission - yet another violent gang for a director who’s made his share of gangster films. Kashyap isn’t out for subtlety as this morality tale takes you in and out of the ring, but his actors can brush ardour, rage, pain and deceit in broad, sometimes bawdy strokes.

With a few odd twists stirring the melodrama and the improbability of an Indian boxing film, Kashyap manages to keep a tight pace over more than two hours, even with clever entertaining musical numbers that don’t advance the plot much. …

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