Shibaji Sanyal (Dev) soars to great heights as a pro boxer, only to come crashing down after a near-fatal injury. Fed up with the drudgery his life turns into, he decides to challenge his fate and rise again.
As a filmmaker, Raj Chakraborty has come of age. The visual brilliance of Chaamp is proof of that, though the runtime could have been shortened a bit. Raj has chosen his locations right, created the perfect mood for the pro-boxing matches and has woven in emotions to the right degree. Chaamp is a game laid out well, with every player having a significant role, however small their screen time may be. That, to me, is a game well played, and a film well made.
I call it well played because Raj made his moves right. Dev, though deadpan as usual, has been played to his strength — flaunting a lean, mean physique and banishing opponents with a signature right uppercut. And though he may not have worked much on his expressions, he gets his body language perfect — from the swagger of a man on top of his game to the stoop of one whom life is treating like a punching bag. His hard work is also evident when one sees his sinewy, ultra lean physique, especially during Shibaji’s heydays and in the climactic bout.
The next perfect cast is Rukmini, who plays Shibaji’s ladylove, Jaya, in the film. She’s quite a revelation — balanced expressions, perfect dialogue modulations and the poise and elegance expected of a girl born with a silver spoon in her mouth. A natural is the best way to define her. Even Priyanka is a great watch, as she, as Chiranjeet’s bubbly sister, loves and helps Shibaji through his bad days, only to be left watching from the sidelines when Jaya takes the place she wants. But there lies the goodness of the film. She feels no malice or hatred; just takes the inevitable in her stride and moves on. Even other characters in the film, especially sports journalist Shantanu (Kamaleshwar), display certain grey shades, but go on to reveal their underlying goodness.
Another actor who makes a mark despite having a little more than a blink-and-miss role is Supriyo Dutta, who plays the local grocer in Sibaji’s Purulia-based village. He hardly gets to say ho-hum, but he doesn’t need to; the expressions and body language of an ailing old man who loves Shibaji from his heart say it all.
But how can we miss Chiranjeet, who plays Shibaji’s coach and mentor? He is perhaps the only weak casting in the film. He makes a huge effort and manages to play the boxing coach to perfection, but looks too — how should I say this —intellectual. The film doesn’t have a single scene where he is seen teaching Shibaji any technique or handing out workout tips. That is one area which could have been better if Shibaji was shown pumping weights or sparring in the ring with his coach. Training is in fact one area that should have got a lot more screen time.
Here we come to the threesome who made Chaamp a truly great watch — cinematographer Soumik Halder, art director Tanmoy Chakraborty and editor Md Kalam. The way the rings and arenas have been designed, the angles used to capture the bouts and the fast cuts make the matches not only ultra-real, but also keeps the audience engaged (quite a few voices in the hall shouted, ‘Come on, Shibaji,’ when the final bout was on). The blurred visuals of punches landing right, the low angles of capturing rope bounces almost give the matches a WWE feel. Even the match choreography is really good, adding to the realism. No one punches up in the air to give Shibaji dodging space; the punches fly straight, hard and technically right.
That brings us to the story. True, it’s Dev and Padmanabha Dasgupta’s baby, but one can’t help but notice the heavy Sultan influence — about fighting and winning despite a life-threatening injury. Also the opening sequence, which shows Dev scaling walls and jumping across rooftops while chasing a guy who steals his boxing gloves. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Padmanabha has written an inspiring script with good dialogues and a tight, though lengthy, screenplay. While the first half flies full steam ahead, the second half is a bit of a drag because of too many scenes high on emotions.
The music plays its part, but Tu hi hai champ doesn’t hit you like that chorus of “Aye Sultan” followed by that fast guitar riff in the Sultan title track. This song has a guitar riff too, but the impact is not as lasting. Jaya tomari, Maula re and Tumio champ have also been visualised well.
Chaamp is a must watch.