Unfortunately I'm not much of a cricket fan, and whatever knowledge I have of the game, how it's played, the rules and regulations and such, is thanks to Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan starring Aamir Khan, a movie which had the game explained in layman terms to a group of villagers assembling a rag-tag team to challenge their oppressive British occupiers with tax breaks on the line. Victory however is a sports theme movie through and through, adopting the very standard formula (which was also applied to Fashion) where it's focused on the protagonist's meteoric rise to stardom, an equally hard downfall, and ultimate redemption.
Harman Baweja's debut in Bollywood hasn't been rosy with the box-office disaster Love Story 2050 (which I've yet to watch), which was an expensive special effects laden science fiction movie involving some time travel. And I thought to a certain extent, Victory doesn't buy him much favours too because his Vijay Shikhawat at his introduction, gets passed off as a very arrogant whiner. Arrogant because of his given talent of being the complete cricket player and a powerful batsman, but a whiner as he constantly complains to his friends and family of rued chances. Not because he's a fault though, but because he's a small town boy who got overlooked by scouting talent due to corruption and cronyism of the scouts.
But as luck would have it, the National Team goes to his hometown for practice sessions, and determined to get just one shot to impress (erm, he did whine first of course), he turns up and wows everyone with an impressive display against the Team India players, and with a professional match in which he shone in, becomes Team India's latest secret weapon against powerhouse countries like Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the likes.
Ajit Pal Mangat's story then follows the beaten path with plenty of films out there where the small town boy gets led astray and seduced by the bright lights in the big cities, affecting his play and sowing the seeds of his downfall naturally. Values like hard work, modesty and humility, no thanks to his money-making sports agent Andy Singh (Gulshan Grover) milking his new client for millions of dollars of endorsement, get exchanged for hard cash, fast women, and hard liquor, before what all sportsmen fear, a career-threatening injury coming their way. Not to mention the cardinal sin for single-handedly failing against an arch-rival team too.
While Goal! was the definitive movie on football, Victory tried to be the same for cricket and adopted the same technique of having real players feature in the film. And credit to the filmmakers here, they got getting players from the various countries involved to participate, and not just digitally adding the actors in it, but to have real and meaningful interaction, which I felt it triumphed over Goal! in this aspect. For fans of cricket, I'd bet this is something of a real treat.
However, the film's quite focused too on the father-son relationship between Vijay and his dad Ram (Anupam Kher), who had pinned his cricket hopes on his son, and finally witnessing him realize both their dreams, only to be disappointed when he had forgotten his roots, and his drive to be world class. There's an interesting parallel here involving the father figure here between Ram and Andy Singh, one who has brought up the boy to become the talent that he is, and the other who pushed the talent to fulfill his commercial potential and downfall. I felt that this portion was glossed over, and could have made an even greater emotional impact when Vijay realizes his grave mistake. Not to mention the resolution of this subplot too, which was deep in melodrama, vastly hurried and lacking that emotional punch when it came.
Romance was also glossed over, even though Amrita Rao's Nandini was there from the onset and we all know of her unspoken love for Vijay. Again the tried and tested was followed to a T, but love got severely reduced to just 1 song summarizing Vijay's realization of her unwavering support and their subsequent courtship, before junking love aside to focus wholeheartedly on the game at hand. I felt that this lack of emotional depth in the film especially between Vijay and his loved ones, somehow provided that disconnect the audience has for the protagonist.
Victory doesn't steer away from expectations of a sports movie, but had unrealized potential which was traded for the familiar. The games too get played out to expectations (and provided some comedic moments in the after-game newsreels), so they became rather textbook with little fancy maneuvers. Perhaps it wanted to play a little safer, but in doing so it became just another genre movie without breaking any new ground.