Ronnie (Aditya Pancholi) is an ace batsman for the Indian cricket team but has a major attitude problem which plagues the spirits of those around him. For this, his older brother, former police official, and current selection committee chairman Vikram Singh, or Vicky (Dev Anand), leaves him out of the national squad about to play the third in a series of One Day Internationals against Australia. His replacement is newcomer Sunny (Aamir Khan), a slum-dweller who suffers at the hands of the evil through most of his life (to put it mildly, but it must sound familiar?!) but makes it through sheer hard work (very feasible in 'the real world'). What's more, he even makes the mistake of finding mutual attraction with Ronnie's love interest!
Ronnie is devastated in jealousy, and intent on ensuring Sunny fails. For this, he might even go to extreme lengths, including collaborating with terrorists to jeopardize the lives of those in attendance at the upcoming match. Will the terrorists strike? Will Sunny and his love survive? Will Ronnie get his wishes? And how will Vicky react to Ronnie's actions, as he is instructed to resume service as public servant, and perhaps confront his brother? Awwal Number has all the answers, and plenty more.
See this film only if you are a fan of cricket, patriotism/cops (they're ethical here), and the cast. Some really good acting and an effective overall plot which serializes concurrent plot lines to bring them together at the end can only do so much to overshadow all that is inconsistent. The production values, redundant dialogue, editing (or lack thereof), and an actress who could have been so much more with correct development, are among its biggest weaknesses.
Having said that, it certainly has its moments and is engaging enough to where I enjoyed it. What works is the intent behind the effort to combine love of cricket with love for the country. There's equilibrium in how it is used, especially with Dev Anand's character.
Sports fans can certainly appreciate a committee debate on the consequences of dropping (the American term for which is 'benching') the biggest star of the team, complete with product placement for Pan Parag! The only reason the last sentence ends with an exclamation is that my introduction to Shammi Kapoor came through the chewing tobacco (eww) product commercials which also starred Ashok Kumar (a masala commercial if there ever were one, complete with suspense and family drama). I cannot find it online, but raise your hand (or comment) if you remember what I'm talking about!
Playing devil's advocate, how is this cause for termination from the team?
For the record, he is referring to an exhibition match with a very small audience, so the voice of the girl in question could be heard from the stands to as far as the pitch about a hundred yards away :P
There are several interesting characters and issues. Let's begin with Lagaan (2001) alumnus (Raja Puran Singh) Kulbhushan Kharbanda (left), who is a pitch curator and perhaps a traitor to his country at levels more serious than that of sport.
Maria (Neeta Puri) is the lead terrorist and Ronnie's second love interest. She is surprisingly effective.
The same cannot be said of Sunny's girlfriend Aarti Rani (Ekta Sohini). She has great taste...
...and a good heart.
But the screenplay sadly lets her down. There's Anjan Srivastav the game announcer! Remember him in the TV show Wagle Ki Duniya around that time?
Sunny, of course, is a rather good actor. The scope of his role here is very limited; the film clearly belongs to Dev Anand and Aditya Pancholi, who have better roles and much more room to showcase their acting talent.
Aftab Shivdasani plays the little Sunny. No violence against children here to get the point across, just occasional flashbacks (although a few more than needed).
A couple of technical flaws could have been avoided altogether. Never mind the field placements being out of sync with the situation. This bugs me: India was playing Australia, and they used this aerial view for effect, which is great, except that any cricket fan could tell immediately that the bowler is not Australian, but Abdul Qadir from Pakistan! You'd think our filmmakers would have tried to stop fooling around with us almost two decades later, but Jannat last year (a rather good film, I might add) had its share of attempts too!
For once, the betting does not involve match fixing.
The music (Bappi Lahiri) is average at best, a couple of tunes that are about okay. Here's one:
In all, it leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is in place, and it is because of the cast that the film is somewhat effective. They seemed to have settled for far too little in the other departments, which is a shame given the elements. A commercial failure very early in Aamir Khan's career, and one he surely learned well from as he risked making another film involving cricket and patriotism (with a stronger emphasis on the latter, although I've never seen our theaters and living rooms morph into stadiums with as much drama and emotion as they did during the last few minutes of Lagaan) about 10 years later. Maybe his hesitation in owning Lagaan initially stemmed from this experience?
Movie Rating: 2.75/5 (Above Average)
Music Rating: 2/5 (Below Average)
My Classification: 15+ (for violence)
Brabourne Stadium was prominently featured throughout the film, and is the site for many special personal firsts. The first sports arena I went to in my life was this. My older sibling and I won our first sports/athletics medals here (she was always the better athlete). The first cricket match I attended was here (Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, playing for Bombay!). And the first time I played tennis was at the adjoining courts. Aah, Bombay...
And while on cricket, here's a shout-out to one of the most remarkable stadiums ever in Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Few (if any) significant international matches are played there any longer, but there was something truly special about India-Pakistan matches there on a Friday mornings, with the likes of arguably some of the best who will ever have played the game in Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram (or Kapil Dev and Imran Khan) in that electrifying atmosphere. Here's a wish for the return of South Asian cricket return to its glory days, and fast, before the World Cup to be played across four South Asian countries in 2011! Long live sport!
That slum dweller in Awwal Number is inspired by a cricketer and a car. Here's the news that leads me to believe they're taking some elements from this movie and subtracting the patriotism bit. Titled Ferrari Ki Sawaari, a Vidhu Vinod Chopra project also starring (obviously, a cricketer who drives a Ferrari) Sachin Tendulkar, should do it! From this IndiaTimes piece:
Rajesh Mapuskar, associate director and a longtime associate of Raju Hirani, will direct the heartwarming tale of how the pursuit of an Indian cricket legend's Ferrari makes a young boy's dreams of playing cricket at Lords a reality. Vinod Chopra and Rajesh Mapuskar have co-written the script and Rajkumar Hirani will write the dialogue of the film. The film is in pre-production.
Here's a related Zee News story, and a brief news clip at Zoom TV. I haven't come across anything by Aamir that would confirm or deny this. In any case, it would be difficult to imagine more than an extended special appearance (perhaps as coach, or another veteran within the team?), in which case I hope Imran Khan (the actor now) plays the lead role of the aspiring cricketer! Ah, the possibilities (and accompanying uncertainty of another film on cricket; many have tried and failed miserably)...