Champion Movie Review: Predictable moves hold this Champion back
This Suseenthiran directorial has all the bearings of the run-of-the-mill underdog sports film, but the lack of surprises weigh it down
After two Kabbadi films this year (Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu 2, Kennedy Club), director Suseenthiran is back with yet another sports film. And this time, he takes on football. The film begins with a perfunctory voiceover explaining the history of how the sport found roots in Chennai, beginning with the colonial era. Unlike Jada, which released a couple of weeks back, this ‘introduction’ has no utility for us. But at the same time, it isn’t completely irrelevant to the film as well. One can extend the same rationale for the film as well, which is more functional than creative.
Cast: Vishwa, Narain, Manoj
Champion has all the bearings of the run-of-the-mill underdog sports film. Of course, there’s poverty. There’s resistance from family, who the kid wins over with help from his coach and mentor. The talented player develops a chip on the block, after which the coach grounds him. There’s the love interest who motivates him to pursue his passion but has a family who hates her for it. There’s just one minor difference. The villain is out to get our hero, not for his skill in football, but rather as a result of an altercation with his father.
Despite the cliched narrative, Champion rises to be a drama, albeit a middling one, due to the smaller nuances that Suseenthiran brings. I quite liked the school romance that blossoms between Jones and Pavithra. It’s the smaller things that make this film endearing. Set to a nice melody, we see the two go about doing things that school students do, without the romance ever getting adult. Pavithra throws the ball for Jones for practice; she teaches him after school. She also lends him money, by lying to her parents, when he needs it to join a bigger academy. None of this is particularly unique, but Vishwa and Sowparnika play their characters with the required innocence. (A big shout out to Vishwa, who plays the footballer quite convincingly. The sequences look authentic, thanks to the young actor’s agility on screen.) It is cute when Pavithra gets a callback later in the film, and also the fact that Jones never takes the chain she gifts, off his neck. Mirnalini, the more popular face, doesn’t get a meaty role, surprisingly.
I also liked the fact when Jones’ father, Gopi (Manoj Bharathiraja, who also plays a footballer) asks Santha (Narain) to coach his son, the latter asks if the kid likes the sport first. “Avan kitta modhalla ball a koodu, avan kooda vilayadu. Avanuku pudichidhu na en kitta kootitu vaa,” he says. This is a kind of nuance that you don’t generally expect in such films where, mostly, dreams are merely handed down to the younger generation. The familiar faces and their performances, add depth to the superficial writing. The taut run-time also helps.
However, all of this doesn’t make up for the lack of embellishment in the film. When Jones first visits one of the bigger academies, he is ‘judged’ for hailing from North Madras. “Football laam vilayadrathu irukattum, ganja vippiya?” he is asked. The film ends with a voiceover, which again says that athletes from the area face three major challenges -- poverty, lack of access to facilities, and the ‘violent’ stereotype they are branded with. But the film hardly does anything to change this image. Jones takes to violence like a fish to water, when he learns about his past. While he is constantly warned against indulging in violence, the film makes it seem like a less-worthy option to choose from. In the climax, when someone else finally takes the axe for Jones, it might seem like a convenient way to end, but at least the idea makes sense. But the forced messaging further bogs it down. It makes for a good moment on paper, but not on screen. But again, one could say that about this film as well.