What do Pooja Bhatt, Lucky Ali, Tanuja Chandra and M. M. Kreem all have in common? They always tend to do something different from the norm. Then it is natural that the result of their collaboration is also something different. "Different" is not always bad, though, and in this case - "Sur" arrives like a breath of fresh air for those nauseated by redundant Hindi melodrama. When was the last time we saw a film without a conventional love story?
Writer-director Tanuja Chandra has taken the teacher-student/young ingenue-old star theme common to numerous western films but has expanded upon it to make a film that at its heart explores the nature of teaching. "Sur" is to teaching as "A Beautiful Mind" is to schizophrenia - presenting the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Enacting these three facets of being is the intense-eyed Lucky Ali. And what´s wonderous about Lucky´s performance is that he portrays these emotions using mainly his eyes. There are no loud gestures; no overstated movements - taking the intensity level of Mr. Ali´s performance several notches higher than the average "hero". The precision with which he steers Vikramaditya Singh through the various phases of his life - from the seeker to the jealous musician to the scornful manipulator to a teacher reflecting on his most cathartic moment - makes one think that the role is tailor-made for him. This is one of the highest compliments one can give an actor.
The foundation of the film is a screenplay that achieves a certain level of depth and precision that has been lacking in Tanuja Chandra´s previous films. It is apparent that Ms. Chandra believes in this script and the appearance and flow of the film are well-executed. She has managed to extract very honest performances from the other actors as well.
Newcomer Gauri Karnik has the task of playing Tina - the catalyst for the changes in Vikramaditya´s life. It is a tough role in that it is central to the film yet is not as developed as her counterpart. Even with the lack of dialogue, she makes an impressive debut. There is a certain raw and realistic quality to Ms. Karnik which I can last remember seeing in Kajol (in her first film). Her nervous energy also works to her advantage here. Harsh Vasisht makes an impressionable debut as Tina´s staunch supporter. Achint Kaur, Simone Singh, and Divya Dutta all lend credible support to their brief but well-developed characters.
M.M. Kreem´s music (both playback and background) lends strong support in carrying the film. The real standouts are "Jaane Kya Dhoondta Hai" (done MTV video-style), the haunting "Aa Bhi Jaa" (with just as emotional a scene forming the backdrop for it), and the dramatic finale - "Kabhi Shaam Dhale".
The film ends on a beautiful note - with Vikramaditya having gone through cathartic changes and now basking in the niche he has carved out for himself. And his mission continues...
It is sad that a film like this - had it been an American film - would have masses flocking to it. The real question that remains to be answered is - will Indians (at home and abroad) dare to see a Hindi film which steps outside the box of "the norm"? If not - one can only hope that this production team will not hamper and continue their mission to find their own niche.