Review: Dennis Jeevan Kanukolanu’s A1 Express is a remake of the Tamil sports drama Nanpe Thunai. Like it often is in sports dramas, the underdogs must play a match to prove their worth and save the day. But A1 Express also weaves in a tale of friendship, love and makes social commentary on just how hard it is to actually pursue sports as a career in this country.
In Yanam, Minister Ramesh (Rao Ramesh) inaugurates a hockey stadium named after P Chitti Babu, a local legend who had once played a hockey match to save the day against the French. Despite India achieving Independence from the British and other colonisers, years later, a bunch of underdogs have to play a match again to save what truly belongs to them. Coach Murali (Murli Sharma) is a retired army officer who has big dreams for his players, including Lavanya Rao (Lavanya Tripathi). Sanju aka Sundeep Naidu (Sundeep Kishan) comes to Yanam from Vizag and seems like an aimless youth whose only purpose is to woo Lavanya. But it’s soon revealed that he has a traumatic past he’s trying hard to forget.
Dennis spends a lot of time in the first half not just setting up Lavanya’s character but also the chemistry between her and Sanju. But the second her character goes from driving a bike to sitting pillion with Sanju, you know the focus will shift too. Despite having potential, her character does end up being relegated to a bystander by the end of the film, making you wonder, why so much time was spent setting it up. It can’t be just for the carefully choreographed duets and for Lavanya’s (the actress, not the character) charm. Either way, she’s wasted potential.
What does work for the film is Sanju and his back-story. Sundeep, Priyadarshi and Rahul Ramakrishna lend credibility, despite a short amount of time given to their tale, tugging heart strings even as Sanju decides to fight back during the fateful match. The journey to there is not easy though. Dennis does a good job of delving deep into the corruption that perseveres when it comes to sports in this country and how multi-national corporations, coaches, local leaders and several others decide the fate of brilliant players with potential who never even get the chance to compete. There’s also a scene that reflects current reality and shows how economic strata, class and even religion is used to create disparities, not to mention social media fan wars created to divert attention from pressing issues.
Sundeep, Lavanya and the rest of the cast breathe life into their characters. There is not a single actor who seems out of place in this well-told tale. Kavin Raj’s cinematography lends the film a unique touch, so does HipHop Tamizha’s music, even if all those duets and peppy numbers seem unwarranted in the larger picture. But then again, they do serve the purpose of keeping things light before they get melodramatic, dark and heavy.
A1 Express might be a predictable, often-told tale, much it is a much-needed one. Even if just to show that there is hope for the youth of this country after all, seeing as how they’re not afraid to fight back.