Originally produced for a theatrical release in 2019, the Sanjay Dutt-starrer “Torbaaz” had a couple of postponements before it was finally released on Netflix on December 11. It was only natural for a film with the charismatic Dutt as the main lead to draw the attention of this reviewer, who was otherwise already halfway through a recently released Indian series.
So Bollywood’s badass Dutt plays Naseer Khan, a doctor who’s revisiting Afghanistan to volunteer in an NGO that helps displaced children in refugee camps. From the start of the movie, we’re told that Dr Khan has some really bad memories of the place from his previous stay there as an employee at the Indian Embassy.
Khan is traumatized with the memories of Afghanistan, to the point he even dislikes the children there. We later learn that Khan’s wife and son had died in a suicide bombing carried out by a local Afghani boy he knew. But still, being the good Samaritan that he is and with respect for his wife’s humanitarian works, Khan makes peace with his fear and hatred to support the children of a rural Afghan community.
At the camp, he meets some young Afghani and Pakistani boys who have a huge interest in cricket. As an ode to his late son who was a cricket enthusiast and an aspiring player, Dutt decides to become a coach to the children and start a cricket team.
But it’s not as easy a task as he assumes, especially with the entry of the notorious warlord Qazar (Rahul Dev) in the region. Qazar is a Taliban leader who uses children to conduct suicide bombings across the country and is in search of escaped children from Pakistan, who coincidentally are a part of Khan’s cricket team.
Torbaaz’s story and screenplay—although originally written for a Bollywood-level production—seem more to meet the criteria of independent films made for OTT releases. With evidently more budget than these independent films and subjects like cricket and children as suicide bombers that could evoke audience passion, there seems nothing that can go wrong.
Unfortunately, the film’s biggest asset turns out to be one of its pressing liabilities. At the risk of arousing the wrath of Sanjay Dutt’s longtime fans, there’s no better way to say what I am going to: he is a total disaster in the film. This has to be one of his laziest performances where he does not even attempt to get into character. In this film, Dutt is not a distraught father and husband, much less a convincing doctor or a cricket coach. Instead, he’s just the actor Sanjay Dutt reading out a script without bothering to understand his character. Wonder what director/producer/writer Girish Malik was doing through the shooting.
Dutt’s inclusion in the movie also gives it too much Bollywoodish aura—which is not ideal for OTT audiences. Any other actor who doesn’t come with such a large baggage of Bollywood would have fared better, making the entire production seem more mature.
So the child actors who seem to be cast from among the locals in the area perform better under the guidance of acting coach/acting workshop director Mayank Dixit.
Also commendable is Hiroo Keswani’s cinematography. Keswani shows Afghanistan in a different light than what we’re used to seeing. Portrayed in most Bollywood and Hollywood movies as a violent region full of deathly deserts, Afghanistan in Torbaaz gets a more humane, scenic, picturesque touch, almost to the point of it appearing like an attractive tourist destination.
Who should watch it?
Although the film stars Sanjay Dutt, we humbly request his fans to avoid it in order to avoid a big disappointment. Versatility has never been his forte and Torbaaz is definitely not his cup of Afghani tea.
For the rest of the audience, you can at least watch the movie for the children’s efforts and to see an entirely different side of the ‘war-torn’ Afghanistan.