Cricket is a gentleman's game; but football - it is a man's game
- growls John William (Manish Chaudhary), the coach of the Indian football team, at the Football Federation President Tiwari (Surendra Pal), just before intermission. Director Sanjay Surkar, 4-time National Award winner, makes his debut into mainstream Hindi cinema with these and similar passionate dialogues in Stand By, a purposeful movie in which he asks probing questions about the state of sports other than cricket in India.
Rahul Narvekar (Adinath Kothare) and Shekhar Verma (Siddharth Kher) are best friends, and both are in the Maharashtra football team. After winning the Santosh Trophy by defeating in the finals "the big daddy of Indian football" West Bengal, Rahul and Shekhar are on a high, and life seems good.
Till the national team selections, that is. Shekhar's father, the ambitious tycoon J P Verma (Dalip Tahil), has reserved for his son a place in a European League club (to emphasise the point that money can buy anything). When Shekhar is given the position of a standby player in the national team, his father sees red.
Rahul's father, Damodar Narvekar (Sachin Khedekar), works hard in a bank, to give his son all the support he needs to be a football player. When Rahul is chosen not just as a player but also as the captain of the national team, Damodar's joys know no bounds.
When J P starts pressurising the selection committee constantly, two of the members, Shrivastav (Avtar Gill) and Satam (Nagesh Bhonsle), embark on a mission to buy out one player, so that Shekhar can replace him. They are met with opposition from the families of all the players (to emphasise the point that money cannot buy everything), and are left with little choice but to poison Shekhar's mind against Rahul.
An initially reluctant Shekhar soon gives in to his own desires, and has no qualms about destroying the life of the person who was closest to him once.
As an actor, Siddharth Kher manages to keep the limelight on himself all the time. He is very convincing as the confused, spoilt brat of a rich man, who is willing to burn all bridges to achieve his dreams. Despite the cold-hearted actions, there is something helpless about his character, and you cannot hate him entirely.
In this story of a clash between the rich and the middle classes, Adinath Kothare shines as the chawl-dweller's hero. His dreams become those of his neighbours, and his humility makes him popular with every person he meets.
The real protagonist of the movie, at least in terms of presence, is Manish Chaudhary. He expresses through his eyes, and remains stern and unbending throughout. The coach is supposed to be above malice and bias, and this is exactly how Manish portrays the character. He even lectures and accuses the selectors, and gets away with it (well, Surkar is an optimistic man).
The women have no role in the movie. They stand and look shocked, surprised and happy, in tune with the emotions that the men in their lives are going through. They are all average actors, and do not leave any impressions.
While the scenes on the field are interesting, the production design and costumes look heavily inspired by television soaps and Lokhandwala fashion. The chawl setting works, but not the high-society house. And speaking in crazy accented English does not make one 'classy'.
The music, while decent, but does nothing for the film. In one song, all the selectors are placed on a giant chessboard, signifying their power and politics in the process of selection. The attempt may be lost on the audience.
The intention of Stand By is to remind us that cricket is not the only sport that this country can play. As somebody says while watching a match in the movie of the European League, "From a population of 1.25 billion, we cannot find even 20 men like that". Sanjay Surkar has brought to light the conditions of other sports in the country. He is not the first (think Goal
, Saaheb, Chak De
!), and he will definitely not be the last.
Till the next movie on sports comes along, Stand By is as decent an attempt as any, and has its heart in the right place. The story meanders away from the main issue to concentrate on the rivalry between the two friends, and the end is abrupt, but Surkar makes his point.