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‘Torbaaz,’ a Film About Children Caught in Afghan Conflict Fails in All Respects

‘Torbaaz,’ a Film About Children Caught in Afghan Conflict Fails in All Respects

  • The saving grace in this yet another disaster from Sanjay Dutt is the climactic cricket match that is played out as a unifier in a war-torn country.

Despite its pertinent subject and a bunch of cute kids, the Sanjay Dutt film Torbaaz, fails to leave a mark. Set in current-day Afghanistan, which is ravaged by the war between the Taliban and the NATO forces, “Torbaaz” is set in an ill-equipped refugee camp, home to children who have lost their loved ones in a never-ending war.

With dialogues as baasi as yesterday’s roti, “Torbaaz” is plagued by stone-faced actors, with robotic, monotone dialogue-delivery, a plot that meanders and despite a heart-wrenching and poignant subject – a global conflict and its effect on children – just fails to grab the viewer’s attention.

Directed by Girish Malik, who also made Jal (2013) and the small 1992 hit, “Shola Aur Shabnam,” “Torbaaz”takes us deep inside war-torn Afghanistan (a dressed-up Kyrgyzstan), where rugged men, spewing Pushtu and bullets, kidnap children ostensibly to train them as suicide bombers or Fedayeens (people who sacrifice themselves) and roam the beautiful countryside, all the while, menacingly glaring at kids from atop horses. 

Enter, former Army doctor, a forlorn Nasser Khan (Sanjay Dutt), who arrives in Kabul to help his friend social activist friend Ayesha (Nargis Fakhri), who runs an NGO for children there. Flashback to Nasser’s earlier happier times and we find out he has lost his wife, Mira and son, Aryan, to none other than a suicide attack by a child bomber, and is now reluctant to help the NGO and the cherubic-kids of the Afghan refugee camp.

A change of heart later, he seeks redemption by playing mediator among a rag-tag, irrepressible bunch of Afghan refugee children and coaching them in the finer points of cricket. Cricket becomes the binding force as Nasser traverses the fault lines of Pashtun-Hazara and Pakistan-Afghanistan conflicts, played out among the children and tries to unite them into a winning team. 

2020 is not proving to be a stellar year for Sanjay Dutt in his choice of movie projects. Not as much of a train-wreck (or should I say car crash?) as “Sadak 2” was, “Torbaaz” comes a close second in a list of terrible Dutt movies.

Unknown to him, among the kids is Baaz who has been trained as a suicide bomber by a Mujahideen leader Qazar (a blue-eyed Rahul Dev). Nasser’s “Lagaan”-inspired experiment is a roaring success and as his team heads towards an all-important match, so do the nefarious plans of the militant leader, mouthing trite propaganda about jannat and jihad. 

No prizes for guessing how “Torbaaz” ends but it is the game of cricket that steals the show and livens up things, especially when the focus is entirely on the children playing. The cricket-playing gang of ruffians-turned-cricketers helps give this sluggish movie some much needed momentum, especially the child actor who plays Chota Sadiq (Rehan Shaikh), who with his smart-talking street-smart ways, will commandeer your heart.

Also missing from the movie is any kind of research. The region, where the film is set, is home to heavy foreign defense forces, yet they are of little significance in the film and just an after-thought in the storytelling. The film shows a retired Indian Army officer roaming freely and even easily getting a face-to-face sit down with the most-wanted Taliban bad-boy Qazar, who even NATO forces haven’t been able to apprehend. Quite unfathomable. 

As for the acting, 2020 is not proving to be a stellar year for Sanjay Dutt in his choice of movie projects. Not as much of a train-wreck (or should I say car crash?) as “Sadak 2” was, “Torbaaz” comes a close second in a list of terrible Dutt movies.

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The saving grace in this 132-minute movie, apart from Aishan Jawad Malik as the all-rounder Baaz, Rehan Shaikh who steals the show as the scrappy Sadiq. Sounding every bit as street-smart as a Mumbai urchin, Sadiq is unfazed by the adults surrounding him and ready for any sort of challenge. Rehan Shaikh’s winning spontaneity is about the best thing in the movie.

Cricket as a unifier in a country ravaged by war and involving the most vulnerable section of society — children — would have made for a great story had it not been for lack of inspired storytelling. Lacking crisp editing, “Torbaaz” has a boring start, and one almost gives up midway, till the cricket kicks in. The best part of the film is in the last half-hour, which showcases an exciting, nail-biting cricket match.

The slides at the end of the film which showcased the many members of the Afghan cricket team and the impossible odds they have braved to shine on the 22 yards, just makes it all the more sad at the missed opportunity that is “Torbaaz.”

“Torbaaz” aired Friday, December 11 on Netflix.

Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.

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