Pailwaan (Hindi) review: Kichcha pailwaan throws a neat punch – Beyond Bollywood


Though the film has its cliched Southern tadka, director S. Krishna’s family, sports drama has enough meat to keep you engaged and entertained

Rating: 2.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

pailwaan-7166137 Pailwaan (2019)

The dubbed Hindi versions of cliched South masala entertainers have always been a huge hit among pan India television audiences.  But the phenomenal success of Baahubali – The Conclusion (2017) and later K.G.F: Chapter 1 (2018) has opened a market for South Indian films in the Hindi belt too. Kannada super star Kichcha Sudeepa has featured in the odd Hindi film, but it’s for the first time that he has a Kannada film enjoying a pan India release.

A film titled Pailwaan aka Pehlwaan has the protagonist wearing boxing gloves. Quite a paradox indeed.  It’s the moolah in ProBoxing League that sees Gajendragar’s champion grappler Krishna aka Kichcha [Kichcha Sudeepa] step into the boxing ring.   More than any personal glory, Krishna wants the money to help street kids in pursuing their sporting dreams.

This dream though originates in the latter part of the film. Earlier, love costs Krishna dearly as it breaking his relationship with his adoptive father and mentor Sarkar [Suniel Shetty].

Noted cinematographer and filmmaker S Krishna joins hands with Sudeepa for a second successive film. The Kannda film is dubbed in four languages – Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam.  As a non-Kannadiga with no knowledge of the language, it’s always difficult to give a true assessment of such a film. 

Often the dubbed versions of south Indian films are lost in translation. The formulaic films though appeal to the Hindi  belt.  With its over-the-top action, melodrama, the South ka tadka [tempering] has always led to unintentional humour for Hindi speaking audiences.

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The early part of the film threatens to turn this into another cliched South Ka Tadka. An orphan boy gets taken in by Sarkar, who trains him to be a champion wrestler one who’d  achieve Sarkar’s dream of winning a gold at the national championships. The celibate though can’t resist the beauty of Rukmini [Aakansha Singh]. The film seems to be going along traditional lines, until circumstances set Krishna on his true path.

Formulaic films have always belied logic.  A lover takes away the bride from her marriage.  There is very little thought given as to the shame that it brings to a bride’s father. Thankfully, fathering a daughter makes Kichcha pailwaan realise what his father-in-law went through when he took away his daughter.

A familiar story but what keeps you interested is the honest efforts of Sudeepa and Suniel Shetty. The Karnataka born, Tulu speaking Shetty makes a comeback after 4-5 years, with his maiden Kannada film. Like his age, Shetty chips in with a matured performance. We do see the 90’s action hero flex his muscles too.

Far from perfect, Sudeepa makes a sincere effort at the Hindi dubbing. Besides, the actor has worked on his body too.   Sudeepa convinces you as the grappler, but as a father, husband, he’s a little overbearing. He works as a labour but wears clean shirts, jeans. He cooks for his wife too.  He has no great income, yet he wants his daughter to get the best education. While they regularly flash their white teeth, but the chemistry between Aakansha Singh and Sudeepa appears forced.

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Aakansha Singh, another north Indian import, plays the archetypal woman who sacrifices her riches to marry the poor man. Before marriage, she only wore western clothes, but after marriage, we only see her in sarees. For a man who is willing to do everything for his family, why would he stop his wife from wearing western clothes again? It’s the girl’s choice to be the ideal Indian wife.

The film suffers due to its two antagonists. First to be blamed is Rana Pratap Varma [Sushant Singh] who’s taken his royalty a bit too seriously. The Ranasthalipur royal is the de facto ruler of his district, one above government, law and the police. Singh has to bear the brunt of a poor catch line, “I am the groom in every house where there is a marriage, I’m the corpse in each house that’s seen a death”. May be that explains why he’s always dressed in traditional clothing.

Haryana’s Kabir Duhan Singh plays the beast pugilist Tony, who wouldn’t think twice at killing his opponent.  Tony behaves like a big bully. He’s got the physicality but no finesse as an actor.  What doesn’t help the film is that both Kabir and Sudeepa fight like amateurs.  The final bout won’t please connoisseurs of boxing.

How can there ever be a south Indian film that doesn’t have its lost-in-translation moment.  Dubbing in Hindi doesn’t mean you turn Kannada characters into North or West Indians. One character Sekri [as mentioned in sub titles] brief’s footage sees him being referred as Pandey ji. The vegetable vendor in the local market speaks in Marathi. It’s baffling as to why the director could miss the graffiti on an adjacent wall that’s painted in Kannadiga text.  Did the production designer lose sight of the fact that this is a Kannada film?

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The Hindi music is decent with the title track seeing Sudeepa and Shetty pulls off some innovative, muscle-flexing moves  – courtesy choreographer Ganesh Acharya.

Director Krishna has retained few cliched story tropes of commercial cinema, but it doesn’t hamper the screenplay much. At 156 minutes in length, it feels exhaustive, but as a package Pailwaan still holds your attention for much of its duration. 

It has its flaws, but it’s the nobility of Krishna [Sudeepa] that helps this pailwaan gain our respect.