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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Chidiakhana, Review: Of all the animals in the zoo…

Chidiakhana, Review: Of all the animals in the zoo…

Made under the Children’s Film Society masthead, now merged with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), Chidiakhana is not a zoo story. It won’t do much good to the reputation of NFDC. Stretching logic a bit too far, the makers justify the title by having the lead character imagine human beings as animals. And the animals talk with human voices. Guess what the core subject is? Football. And when you are making a film on football (or soccer), there is a very good chance that you will look to Two Half-Times in Hell (1961). Many before Chidiakhana have done it. Some have even supplanted cricket in place of football. Sad to say, none of the replicas, even with major side-tracks to cause diversion, have reached the heights of the original. Ditto Chidiakhana, which has his striker running in different directions.

Here’s one story. A mother moves from place to place every couple of years, along with her son. He is no Einstein and being fatherless is a major handicap at school. Everybody teases and abuses him. But his love for football sees him through. He even finds puppy love in a fellow schoolgirl just about his age. Here’s another. A local Don strikes a deal with a conglomerate of builders to usurp the land currently in possession of a school, and where football is played. The local political leaders are all in his pocket, except the Mayor. A third: A woman in Bihar marries a Naxalite, who has spared her life, and her brother kills him in revenge. She escapes, lest the family kill her and her son too. And the last. The school’s Marathi-speaking football genius hates the young Bihari boy’s guts and spares no occasion to abuse or assault him. A bad man, with a passion for football, and a heart of gold, comes along and unites the warring two-some, leading them to fame and glory. One film, four stories.

Manish Tiwary (story) and Manish Tiwary (dialogue) & Padmaja Thakore (dialogue) and Sonal Sher (dialogue). Thus read the writing credits. The story is a confluence of four streams, and they do not flow as one. Looks like Manish wanted to play safe, and bring in a substantial dose of everything. The father’s name bit is overplayed. Dialogue plays on accents and a generous sprinkling of Marathi (sub-titled). The Bihari pride in Manish surfaces when the lead player, Sooraj, is asked to say something in Bihari, and he says something impactful, and says it twice, with real pride. An interesting insider joke is Sooraj talking to himself and day-dreaming, then suddenly waking up, saying, “That was a voice over. Time for a reality check.” Some tender as well as humorous dialogue is heard between Sooraj and his puppy love, Mili.

As director, Manish Tiwary exploits the Dockyard Road sea-shore very well. In fact, he overdoes it. The cut after Pratap is shot is used conveniently, to conceal what really happened. Arrival of the brother, Bikram, and his dangerous motive are poorly handled. Did he really think he would get away with murder in a foreign land (Mumbai is foreign to him), in a hutment colony? The Naxalite element is a good side-track, but it is cut at super speed, without letting the viewer register what is happening.  On the other hand, Tiwary pays only lip-service to the two rappers, one of whom is very dark and size +++. They have hardly any role to yap…rap about.

Ritvik Sahore  as Sooraj is the cute boy next door. But he has to battle to many demons. Firstly, he keeps seeing animals in place of humans. Next he is tortured about his father’s name, which his mother refuses to tell him. Then he has to face Babu, the footfall genius and big bully. Finally, he has to save the football ground. All this is too much for him, and he just manages to pass through. Avneet Kaur as Mili is a delight to watch. Far from camera conscious, she seems to be enjoying every pose. I saw Rajeshwari Sachdev after a long time. She plays Sooraj’s mother, Vibha, who works as a house-maid to make ends meet. Slim as ever, she did a pretty good job.

Prashant Narayanan as Pratap remains an enigma. You expect him to do negative roles, which he does with aplomb. But not often does he get roles like Chidiakhana. I feel he could use his eyes better. Govind Namdeo as Bhau is Govind Namdeo as Bhau. It would be surprising if he did not play the Bhau. Ravi Kishan has a cameo as Bikram, and there is not much to say about it. Jayesh Kardak as Babu had a really tough role, and, with some obvious help from the director, he really impresses. Not many would be able to carry off Babu. Annjjan Shrivastva as the principled school principal is type cast, but sails through smoothly. In a brief appearance, Prakash Chandra Yadav, as the Naxalite leader, Praduyman Mahato, left an impression.

In support are Pushkaraj Chirputkar, Ajay Jadhav, Nagesh Bhonsle, Milind Joshi,  Madhavi Juvekar, Sanjay Bhatia, Shashi Bhushan, Prashant Tapasvi,   Ritika Murthy, Shriraj Sharma, Yogiraj, Laril Ganjoo, Swati Seth, Yogesh, Akhilesh (the two rappers), Sumit Malhan and Sargun.

Music by Vivek Rajagopalan, cinematography by Sriram Ganapathy, film editing by Irene Dhar Malik and Manish Tiwary are the behind-the-scenes credits.

It is always disappointing when a film that is good in parts fails to engage you in totality.

Chidiakhana remains a concoction.   

Rating * ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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