If Siddharth scored the Queen with Rang De Basanti, he has a dream follow-through in Striker, playing the role of a lifetime as Surya, a carrom champion who tries to play by the rules, with his eye firmly on the aim.
But as he realises, life in the ghetto turns out to be a game of Snakes and Ladders, and luck scores over talent. So how does the angry young man of the Eighties cope with a system that plays into the hands of the all-powerful don Jaleel (Aditya Pancholi) and stay out of trouble?
It's not all black and white in the dark alleys of Malvani.
Chandan Arora loves the greys and his central characters cross over to the dark side at various points in the film. The hero isn't the regular do-gooder, he's just another guy in the slum who would do what it takes to get out of there.
His best friend Zaid (Ankur Vikal), the company he keeps, lives life on the edge with a bagful of schemes that could land them both into trouble. So when Zaid tells Surya to take on Jaleel's men in the underground carrom championship, he's not relying on his friend's talent as much as his own while calling in the cops and making good with the betting money. And their lives are forever changed.
The filmmaker takes his own time to set up the characters and their world, rather weakly flitting between the present (December 1992) and the past (the late Seventies and the Eighties as the hero grows up), treating the backdrop with as much or more importance than the characters themselves.
Like Slumdog Millionaire, these are two guys (there brothers, here best friends) growing up in the ghetto with contrasting moralities. But the stories part ways quite early on. If Slumdog was a fairytale, Striker, after taking a while to get going, turns into an unpredictably real thriller.
Chandan Arora takes on quite a bit to chew, including the loaded Hindu-Muslim conflict (if you hadn't got the hint with the December 1992 setting) and an underplayed rape whose aftermath is conveniently resolved.
Quite early on in Striker, Surya falls in love with a Muslim girl next door and learns Arabic, after saving up enough to migrate to Dubai.
The girl's family disappears overnight and so does the agency that promised him the job.
Malvani, we are told, is a ghetto with a 90 per cent Muslim population and so the director sets out to make it all politically correct. If Surya's good-at-heart criminal friend Zaid and his evil boss Jaleel are both Muslims, the director also brings in an honest policeman Farooque (Anupam Kher) for the sake of balance before the film heads to a bloody climax followed by a confession that puts things in perspective.
So yes, Striker does get its point across if you are looking for one.
But be warned. Half the film works purely because of the atmospherics and half of it works because of the tension generated. We get the occasional glimpse of heart but this hard-hitting tale is all about life on the edge.
Director: Chandan Arora
Cast: Siddharth, Ankur Vikal, Aditya Pancholi, Anupam Kher, Vidya Malvade, Padmapriya, Nicolette Bird
Storyline: The ever-changing fortunes of an angry young man trying to stay on the right side of the law in the mean streets of Malvani in the 1980s.
Bottomline: Raw, edgy, dark and grey — the life portrait of a carrom champion raised in the ghetto