No one would suggest that you see Striker for an evening’s entertainment. An accurate documentation of Mumbai in the decade leading to 6 December 1992, the film is profoundly depressing, with the city sketched as a stagnating cesspool of criminal deprivation, ready to ignite like a tinder box the moment a mosque is brought down in north India.
Intriguingly, professional carrom in the city is associated with the lower middle class. Excellence in this sport—played under low hanging lights with silent spectators round the table, like a game of billiards at a club—allows skill to triumph over background and economics. A good player has status, provided he doesn’t play for money, for the betting odds laid on him.
Surya (Siddharth) uses the ‘striker’ expertly, desperate to make money and get out of his shanty town. Dubai is the aspiration but anywhere out of Malvani, the ghetto that he calls home, will do. The local don, a ‘bhai’ called Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi), has a gambling den with big stakes in carrom and needs him. So no matter how much Surya twists and turns, he can’t escape the stranglehold of his unfortunate environment.
Correspondingly, the world that the film describes traps the audience along with the characters and, while true to life, is like walking into a cul-de-sac. What you see is ‘darkness visible’. Interestingly, the stand-out performance in Striker is not that of the protagonist, but his friend, an endearing no-gooder called Zaid, played by Ankur Vikal. He is the only person in Striker who loves Surya unconditionally and he lights up the film until the point that his flame, too, is extinguished.
The problem that director Chandan Arora faces is that unlike with a contact sport, it is difficult to turn carrom into exciting cinema. There is a board, the black and white ‘carrom-men’, the red ‘queen’ and the flick of the fingers. So the ‘striker’ is used as a metaphor for a destiny that drives a man through the unrelenting cycle of poverty and crime. A well made but very sad film.