Predictably Clichéd
40%Overall Score

Streaming now on Netflix

Racism is the latest hot topic globally and it did not take long for the discussions to start within India. While racism in India would also constitute colorism and communalism, a conversation on a broader scale is the need of the hour. Education, of course, would begin with the media and India has a serious lack of films that talk about racism within the country. Shubham Singh’s 2019 sports drama Penalty addresses this issue while telling us a story about a young boy and his dreams. The film revolves around Lukram Smil (Lukram) who moves to a prestigious university in Lucknow from his hometown in Manipur, to pursue his dream of playing professional football. Along with his roommate Ishwar (Manjot Singh), he becomes a star player until his North-eastern identity becomes an issue for some jealous players. The system does not allow Lukram to make it in the final selections, but there’s still hope for the young starlet.

A glimpse into casual racism in India

As we follow Lukram and his life at the university, you cannot help but realize that he’s an “outsider” in his own country. Even though he tries to fit in, he’s ultimately pushed away by those self-asserted rulers of the land. From nicknames to racial profiling, we can see how casual racism can become harmful in the long run. In his new team, Lukram meets many more players who have been denied the platform despite the talent, be it as a result of their caste, economic status, or physical handicap. In a way, the film highlights many social evils in our society and the urgency to fix these issues.

The underrated genius of Kay Kay Menon

One of the plus points among the several downsides of the film is its cast. The writing may not do justice to its characters, but their actors handle the task effectively and deliver some brilliant performances. Kay Kay Menon stands out as the strict but sly head coach of the team, whose deep layers are peeled away gradually. Menon has been a brilliant performer for decades now but the actor hasn’t received his due in the film industry. This film is far from his best but it doesn’t stop him from playing his character to the tee.

The message is right but the method is faulty

The main issue with Penalty is that it eventually fails to score an impact. The characters are lazily written and a movie about racism cannot have so many stereotypes. The film could have easily done without the “talkative” sardar or the “gluttonous” Punjabi, giving their characters more depth instead. The romance angle that’s forcefully fitted into the narrative was completely unnecessary. While Penalty does highlight an important issue, it needs to do it far more effectively.

Penalty kickstarts the uncomfortable conversation around racism, which needs to be discussed. Along the way, it gives us a look into many lives who have been denied the privilege they deserve but do not have due to various systematic problems. Watch it for its potent message and brilliant performances, but do not expect much else.

Director: Shubham Singh
Writer: Tasha Bhambra, Akhilesh Choudhary, Sparsh Khetarpal, Shubham Singh
Cast: Lukram Smil, Manjot Singh, Kay Kay Menon, Shashank Arora
Language: Hindi
Streaming on: Netflix