When I sat in front of my computer to watch Striker on YouTube, I had some concerns. I was glad that I didn’t have to drive over an hour to the only theater near me that was showing it, but I wondered if I’d be as immersed in the experience watching it at home as I would be in the theater. Within minutes, Striker‘s riveting characters put my fears to rest.
Striker flashes back and forth through three time periods in the life of Surya (Siddharth), a young man who lives in Malvani, a Mumbai ghetto. As a child in 1977, he watches his older brother playing carrom — a table game like billiards, where small wooden disks are flicked with the fingers into corner pockets. Surya excels at the game but loses interest as he gets older.
Flash forward to 1988. Surya works as a courier who specializes in transporting jewelry and large amounts of cash. Because it’s a risky job — he’s responsible for repaying the money if he’s robbed en route — Surya pays a broker to find him a lucrative manual labor job in Dubai.
When the broker disappears with Surya’s money, his childhood friend, Zaid (Ankur Vikal), comes up with a scheme to get it back: playing carrom for money. Zaid runs errands for the local don, Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi), and is able to get Surya into some high stakes games.
Jaleel is, of course, not to be trusted. He and his goons don’t brandish weapons openly, but there’s an unmistakable air of menace about them. Zaid isn’t much more reliable, given his drug use and frequent arrests. And the rules governing life in Malvani are in flux after the arrival of a tough police inspector, Farooque (Anupam Kher).
In 1992, a time when religious riots are engulfing Malvani, Surya turns to Inspector Farooque for help. The movie begins and ends in this timeframe.
Striker opens with a note from the filmmaker, Chandan Arora, stating that the movie is based on true stories from people who live in Malvani. The movie’s structure, which shows Surya at various points in his life rather than following one linear narrative, makes Surya seem more like a real person than a typical hero. He’s not the poor kid who grows up to transcend his meager upbringing by leading a righteous life. He’s a guy who doesn’t have many options and occasionally tries to make good choices, but often doesn’t.
Zaid is the most interesting character in the film. Vikal plays Zaid as just charming enough to get by without any real vocation or goals. But, from the moment he shows up in the 1988 timeframe, it’s clear that whatever fate awaits Zaid is not a happy one.
Striker is wonderfully atmospheric. Malvani isn’t a slum as decrepit as the one in Slumdog Millionaire. It’s a neighborhood with houses and shops and various places to get into trouble. The carrom-playing scenes are as evocative as any scenes set in the smoky pool halls of Hollywood films. Appropriately, there are no song-and-dance numbers. Striker will appeal to fans of mainstream American films, inviting them to explore Indian movies beyond the musical masala fare.
Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 min.
Notes on the YouTube viewing experience:
I was impressed with the quality of the YouTube rental experience. The movie downloaded in its entirety almost immediately, so I didn’t have to pause and wait for the video to load. The English subtitles appeared in white text on a black band below the main movie, making them easier to read against a consistently colored background (and, I presume, easier to ignore if you don’t need them). I’d happily rent more movies from YouTube in the future, especially if they’re made available the same day as the theatrical release.