'Captain' review: A moving sports biopic with an excellent Jayasurya in the lead

This film, based on the real life of VP Sathyan, trails the internal journey of a football player from Kerala.
'Captain' review: A moving sports biopic with an excellent Jayasurya in the lead
'Captain' review: A moving sports biopic with an excellent Jayasurya in the lead
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Just before the interval, there is a scene where Sathyan’s wife Anitha, concerned over his lack of sleep, forgets to wake him up to watch a football World Cup match. Bedraggled, hollow-eyed, running a fever, and with a sprain in his leg, Sathyan gets up in the middle of the night, bursts out against the world, his injuries and his inability to play, tosses the TV and walks out.

The next day he is back with a larger LCD TV, gifts his daughter a football and manages to placate his wife, who smiles through her tears. In another scene he tries to blow air into that football, telling the daughter his “breath” (life) is inside that ball.

Though it encapsulates a fallen hero, that in a way defines VP Sathyan and his unquenchable passion for the game of football, Captain is a sports biopic that trails the internal journey of a sportsman—beyond triumphs, records, milestones and failures. It’s more a human story that helps us understand the complex inner battles of a man who struggled to stay afloat, despite being the longest serving captain of the Indian national football team.

Debut director Prajesh Sen is clear that this biopic isn’t just about the sport; such is the unflinching focus on Sathyan’s physical and psychological downward spiral. Maybe that’s why we aren’t fed with many nail-biting matches or his on-field rivalries or his equations with the team. In fact, the film is meticulous in bringing forward the man behind the sportsman—but then, it is also true that one cannot exist without the other.

The film goes back and forth between various events in Sathyan’s life. The stretch from childhood to adulthood seems hurried, it was as if they assumed we already knew that part and needed no further explanation. His silent love story with Anitha (Anu Sithara) and their life after marriage was nicely done and it’s also one of the core threads of the film. There is a cute little bit where he talks about his first love on their first night and she breaks down. There was a tenderness in their moments together. And Sathyan, for all his honesty, dedication and passion is shown as someone who only lived to play football, to the point of insanity.

Everything else in his life, including Anitha is secondary. Take, for instance, his refusal to get surgery because he doesn’t want to take a break and Anitha wondering at his sadness despite all that he has achieved. In that moment, that is the same thought that enters our mind. But somewhere I thought Prajesh, in his quest to capture Sathyan’s battle with injuries, mind-numbing pain and disappointments, doesn’t really allow us to savour his victories. So, they end up as mere figures.

When the emotional bits really get to us, it is largely because of the actor, Jayasurya. It’s a terrifically nuanced act. Not only does he maintain the Kannur dialect (after Mammootty, he is one actor who manages to retain it even during emotional scenes), the actor internalises Sathyan. The grief, the pain, the joy, the gait and even the passion.

Two scenes stand out: one, as a coach he is instructing the boys to kick the ball through a rubber tyre but when he's challenged, he fails after several attempts and walks away; the second, when the captain’s band is removed from his arms - we know he is shattered inside but he maintains his poise. Terrific.

There aren’t many memorable secondary characters, but Siddique’s character was a nice touch. He walks in at crucial stages in Sathyan’s life and feeds us exquisite trivia—Malappuram went for football not as a game but as a searing dissent against the colonial masters. Renji Panicker as a coach is now a cinematic cliché, including his dialogue delivery. Saiju Kurup, who plays the supposed antagonist was also a badly written character.

Anitha is the other compelling character—the woman who stood by his side like the Rock of Gibraltar. Smiling and without complaints. When he does his usual disappearing act, a frantic Anitha calls his friend who puts the phone on speaker and lets her hear his speech after having received an award. Instead of being angry, you see her listening enraptured, gently caressing his medals and trophies. Anu Sithara is a treasure for sure.

I had a grouse with the totally inoperable background score(Gopi Sundar), which was more celebratory and didn’t gel with the mood of the film - though he made amends with the lovely songs. Kolkata with its sprawling green maidans, huge decadent museums and lakes looked lovely (Roby Raj). The Santosh Trophy final match, despite its shoddy VFX, manages to capture the football frenzy in our state in all its fervour. As the end credits roll and stills of the real VP Sathyan appear on screen, he suddenly seems very familiar to us. Yet, for some reason, it’s difficult to shake off a sense of sadness that envelops us when we leave the theatre.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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