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‘Sarfira’ Review: Akshay Kumar Truly Gets To Explore His Range After a Long Time

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

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Often, especially in the past few years, I’ve found myself saying and hearing that a particular film is relying too heavily on its star. It's never a good thing. The star relying on the film and its subject, however, is a different matter. 

We see a bit of both happen in Akshay Kumar’s latest film Sarfira, a remake of the Suriya-starrer Soorarai Pottru from director Sudha Kongara. 

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

Akshay Kumar in a still from Sarfira.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Vir Mhatre (Akshay Kumar), who hails from a village in Maharashtra, has one dream – to start a low-cost airline for the masses. He's driven by entrepreneurial spirit and a personal loss but when you're fighting the system, that isn't enough. His biggest adversary is one Paresh Goswami (Paresh Rawal) who has a near-monopoly on the aviation market with his Jaz Airlines. 

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On the other end is his partner Rani (Radhikka Madan) who is more self-assured and practical than Vir. If Vir soars high, Rani is the one keeping the family rooted to the ground – both equally important. Rani is the kind of woman who has probably heard her entire life that she’s ‘too much’ for the people around her but, unlike the archetype we usually see in cinema, this is used as her strength. 

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

Radhikka Madan in a still from Sarfira

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

She sets clear boundaries and expects them to be followed and mentions very early on that her business (Rani Bakery) is her priority with her family and it’s what she expects her husband to do as well. Mutual respect is something we rarely see in marriages on screen even today so Rani and Vir’s equation is refreshing to say the least. One can’t help but hope that we got to see more of Rani’s journey while trying to make her dream come true. 

The simplicity in their relationship drives the film’s narrative forward – she acts as a catalyst but doesn’t exist solely to spoon feed revelations to the film’s hero. Madan, who has proved her mettle in films like Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota seems to be having way too much fun with Rani’s character. Her energy is infectious and even the dialogues seem a little too cliche, it’s her charm that elevates them. 

Some of the film’s best scenes come from Vir and Rani navigating their marriage and Rani’s ‘conditions’. 

The rest of the cast pulls their weight but Seema Biswas and Saurabh Goyal are standouts. Some of the side actors go too heavy on their accents which makes their characters appear caricaturish and for a film that is already relying on its over-the-top quality, this does more harm than good. Paresh Rawal’s character pulls the actor’s skill down like an anchor – the film’s antagonist feels too one-tone. He says the same thing in different ways – “I don’t want the common man sitting next to me on a flight”.

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

A still from Sarfira

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

More shades to his character or a deeper understanding of his psyche would’ve helped the film’s own messaging. 

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The class divide isn’t as simple as a “dislike” – the problem is a system that oppresses the poor and marginalised to benefit the powerful. Goswami is a proud cog in that machine but, if I caught it right, even he came from humble beginnings. That is a character worth writing more for – someone who is perpetuating a system that earlier harmed him. I found myself thinking of Phulo Karma’s (Smita Tambe) character in the brilliant Joram. Restraint is what Sarfira needed the most and more nuance second. 

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

A still from Sarfira

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The film, based on Air Deccan founder GR Gopinath’s book ‘Simply Fly’, presents itself like a biopic but sometimes makes some confusing tonal decisions. It isn't necessary for a film to feel ‘real’ but for a film like Sarfira, being rooted to reality is necessary. The film forgoes this by being dramatic and loud – every sequence is milked for the maximum reaction. 

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So when the time comes for some of the calmer moments to shine, it feels more jarring than comforting. However, it's the film’s strong story and adequate pacing that keeps it engaging. The film might be the story of one man's fight for his dream but, at its heart, it's a story about India’s class divide. A plane ticket is still a luxury and this story is set more than a decade ago and here’s a man willing to offer some plane seats for Rs 1.

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

Akshay Kumar and Radhikka Madan in a still from Sarfira.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

It’s a democratic idea and it brings to mind the quote, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both,” which is the primary difference between Vir Mhatre and Goswami. Goswami’s aversion to Vir’s idea doesn’t come from him seeing the latter as a threat – it comes from the need to maintain what Vir refers to as the ‘caste barrier’. Goswami believes that luxury must be kept out of the reach of the masses and would do everything in his power to make that happen. 

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Vir, like his father, is revolutionary – the only difference is that Vir chooses action over his father’s weapon of choice, the pen. The film has a neat sequence about the need for revolution in the face of power – after all, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing’. But the film doesn’t make this seem like an easy task either, much like Junaid Khan’s Maharaj for instance. 

'Sarfira' starring Akshay Kumar is a remake of Suriya's 'Soorarai Pottru'.

Akshay Kumar in a still from Sarfira.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Taking on the powerful, the bureaucracy is never easy, especially in a world where money speaks louder than morals and Vir learns this lesson the hard way. He knows he has a good idea and, to him, it’s an idea that is a no brainer. Why wouldn’t someone want to make air travel more accessible to everyone? But an answer from Goswami pulls that rug from under his feet – “I don’t want that,” he says. 

The only issue with Sarfira is that this conversation about caste stays limited to this dialogue and some heavy exposition in the latter half. It doesn’t enter the actual fabric of the film and it should have. When the film is obviously trying to highlight how the rich and powerful exploit marginalised communities, it is natural to expect more; its good intention made lighter by superficial exploration. 

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Like Suriya, this movie acts like a breath of fresh air for Akshay Kumar after his recent releases. There are parts where Vir looks like an extension of the Kumar we’ve already seen before (perhaps the effect of becoming Bollywood’s ‘biopic hero) but for the most part, this role allows Kumar to tap into his range as an actor. Even in the particularly hammy scenes, the actor keeps the story going. 

You can’t help but indulge in Sarfira though – it might even make you cry more than once depending on how easily you tend to tear up. Towards the end, you find yourself so engrossed that you can’t help but give into what the film is asking you to do. 

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