Torbaaz Review

A heartfelt albeit inconsistent and predictable ode to the children of war (and to cricket)

Rhea Srivastava -

Torbaaz Review
Movie Rated

Another movie on cricket? I was afraid that Torbaaz would turn out to be an extended version of the usual sports programming on television, which happens to go from regular plays of the game, to pointless reruns and highlights. Another movie on the Taliban? Cue for the same old jingoistic, racist, and inflammatory stereotypes which leave no room for sensitivity. On watching the new Netflix film, I am somewhat happy to report that at least aside from some Bollywood trope indulgences, Torbaaz just uses the medium of cricket to chronicle the travails of kids in an Afghani refugee camp in a rather soft and sensitive way. The intention is there, even if the execution lacks a little something. 


What is the story about?

Starring Sanjay Dutt as ex-army doctor Nasser Khan, Torbaaz is set in a refugee camp in Afghanistan, run by some good samaritans including Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri). Khan returns to Kabul to help out in Ayesha’s Foundation, which also happens to be the place where he lost his family. At the camp, he realizes the children’s love for cricket (as is obvious from the fact that Afghanistan is a cricket-loving nation as any other) and begins a training camp for the rustic lot. ‘Team Torbaaz’ is born. The conflict arises when the team’s star player comes to be a young Talibani named Baaz. The children get to play the match of a lifetime, even as the reality that one day, Baaz may return to his leader (Rahul Dev) looms on their heads.


Torbaaz starts off seriously, with the background of how Afghanistan is now the point for conflict, between the Afghani government and military, NATO, and the Taliban (amongst other powerful militant organizations). The visuals are striking in the way they portray how young children are abducted by the organization and brain-washed into becoming suicide bombers in the name of mujahideen. When Nasser arrives at the camp, there is already some internal strife between different groups of children, signifying how their cultural differences are ingrained in their minds enough to not see other kids as what they are - kids, and possible allies or friends. Thus begins Nasser’s attempts to use cricket and their common love and passion for the game as a means to get them together. One can see the effort that is being put in making this concept feel a lot more affecting than it comes across.
The screenplay focuses mostly on cricket-playing and less on the smaller interactions and daily lives of the children to show how deeply their surroundings shape their understanding and affect their future. There are few moments in the middle where Nasser tries to connect with different kids, especially Baaz because his connection to the Taliban makes the game most morally ambiguous. We can see how easy it would be for Nasser to connect to this child due to the loss of his own, but these connections are never made completely. The moment you do start feeling for the kids, the movie shifts gears to a different backdrop losing its emotional core. 
With a runtime of about 2 hours 15 minutes, the film takes a lot of time to reach its climactic match, where Team Torbaaz battles it out with the Kabul Cricket Academy’s under-16 team. This is probably the most momentous part of the film and written sincerely. But by this time, we’ve spent way too much time seeing Nasser build his team and very little in watching them work together aside from the fact that they love the sport. Still, in spite of how predictably the match is played (do not expect any Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Lagaan type revelations here), the final moments are shocking, bittersweet, and hopeful. The climax itself is inevitable from miles away but does make you feel something. 


As the pivot for all the drama and connection, Dutt comes across as a bit inconsistent throughout the film. There are sparks of that affable do-gooder that we’ve seen in Munnabhai but there are moments where his eyes are vacant and disconnected. Nargis Fakhri’s presence is unnecessary. In fact, her delivery is most jarring. Rahul Dev is very good but his screen time is too little. Honestly, the most memorable performances come from Aishan Jawad Malik as Baaz and Rehan Shaikh as Sadiq, two street-smart kids who have seen the worst and are ready to face any challenges.

Music & Other Departments

The music of Torbaaz is quite effective, and the score is especially good, even if it doesn’t match the slow pacing of the writing. The film is a bit scattered in how scenes progress and apart from the cricket practice and matches, nothing else seems too relevant. The film was shot a while ago in the beautiful landscapes of Kyrgyzstan, and that aesthetic is a sight for sore eyes. The visual effects are extremely subpar. 


Credit where due, Torbaaz is not outright dismissive of the situation in Afghanistan, neither does it paint a good picture for either party. It is meant to be a sports film about children and it is most interested in concentrating on that part of the story. There is minimum drama and no over-the-top moments. There are some scenes that are genuinely sweet and heartfelt. Even the drama in the climax feels most welcome. What happens in films with kids is that they often come across as annoying or unrealistic, and none of the kids in Torbaaz feel like that. 


Where Torbaaz fails is in trying to convince of its larger point of how children are a victim of terrorism, and not terrorists themselves. We don’t really learn anything about these children - where they come from, the loss of their families and loved ones, their tryst with militancy, the trauma of being refugees perhaps their whole lives, what they hope for the future, and what organized systems in the country are doing to help them. Not to mention, it does come with a certain saviour complex for the non-exotic foreigner (this time an Indian called Nasser Khan) who will be a sole force in rehabilitating these children. 


Did I enjoy it?

I wanted to like it a lot more because I know that the ethos of the film was well-intentioned. If only it wasn’t as slow and dull… 

Do I recommend it?

I see no harm in the film, and it can certainly qualify as a one-time watch. It may be a good choice for a lazy day with no other options. The tragedy is that it had the potential to be a lot more.


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