Telugu cinema's heartthrob Siddharth plays a caromplayer in “Striker”.

Most of us have fond memories of playing carom during our growing up years but we never found the interest reflected in Bollywood flicks. Now Telugu star Siddharth Suryanarayan is making his Hindi film debut as a solo hero with “Striker”, where the plot revolves around a carom player. Siddharth, who gave an impressive performance in “Rang De Basanti”, makes it clear at the outset that it is not a sports film.

“It is a period drama set in Malwani area of Mumbai in the 1980s and is inspired by the times when every day young unemployed youth used to go out of slums empty-handed but returned with thousands of rupees, all because of their skills in carom. There used to be around 3000 carom clubs in the city and the underground carom scene has been breeding hustlers and gamblers for many years. My character Suriya grows up in a poor family in Malwani. He has a passion for carom and goes on to win the junior championship. As usually happens as one grows, such indoor sports take a back seat but when he is duped by an overseas employment agency, circumstances force him to return to his childhood passion. From then on it is about victory of human spirit over indomitable odds.”

But carom has never been a visual sport and perhaps that's the reason that it lost out to television-friendly sports. “That's true there is no physicality involved. But I found it very challenging for an actor because during my research I figured out that it is a mental game and things like eye contact and facial expressions play a crucial role in success. I spent days in Malwani playing with the local masters to get the feel and I can assure you this game won't bore you on screen.”

“There is another reason,” Siddharth adds, “that goes beyond commercial stakes. Films on expensive sports or outdoor games seldom succeed in bringing audience actually to the ground but ‘Striker' has a real chance to inspire a youngster or his parents to buy a carom board which still doesn't cost more than 300-400 rupees and have a good time at home. It is a much better way of fostering family bonds than buying mobile phones to remain connected.”

Directed by Chandan Arora, who is known to present slice-of-life stories like “Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon”, Siddharth says Chandan has a rare talent of putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

“And the fact that he is a master editor prevents him from any kind of indulgence.”

A singer too

Interestingly, the film's music was composed after the film was shot. Siddharth, who has studied in Kirori Mal College, Delhi, has himself sung two songs. “It is a first of its kind. After the film was shot we showed it to six contemporary music composers. People like Vishal Bharadwaj, Amit Trivedi and Swanand Kirkire, and asked them to compose a song each according to their impression. There is no lip sync, all the songs play out in the background. I have been singing off and on. As I have a raw voice, it adds to the authentic feel.”

Isn't the wait for a solo role, a waste of time in today's times? “Not for me. Down South, I have done 10 films as a solo hero and nine of them have been highly successful. I didn't want to give up without trying.”