Another round in the same fight.
Synopsis: A practicing Sikh is banned by the boxing commission for refusing to back down from his religious beliefs. Through racial profiling and stereotypical threats, he does what any strong American would do, fight back. (IMDB)
Starring: Prem Singh, Mickey Rourke, and Janel Parrish
Writers: Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh
Director: Alister Grierson
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 95mins
Representation is important when it comes to film. When it comes to this sports drama, representation is the only thing that set this film apart from others in the genre. Not to say that this film is necessarily bad, it was just highly derivative and predictable, relying on sports clichés. However for those who can connect with the story, none of this will matter. The story was about a Sikh man named Pardeep Nagra (Singh) and his back and forth battle with the American Boxing Council who tried to ban him from boxing based on an archaic rule that went against his religious beliefs.
Nagra took his beliefs very seriously and took offense to any challenge to them. He always had to work hard and prove himself against profiling and stereotypes despite being an American citizen. This naturally made him an angry person and what better outlet for that anger than boxing? Who better to train him than a former boxer needing a reason to live? Frank Donovan (Rourke) was that former boxer. Seeing potential in Nagra, he planned on channeling his anger into something more constructive.
Nagra’s beliefs were already a hurdle when facing society but he also encountered opposition within the boxing club where he trained thus further fueling his anger. Perhaps more importantly, the other boxers were jealous of his potential. His biggest rival would prove to be another boxer and caricaturish jealous person named Brian Doyle (Michael Pugliese). Not only did he have to contend with other boxers, he also had to take on an entire establishment. Keeping him from competing was the ABC who claimed that his Sikh beard violated their rules. Helping him was a lawyer named Charlotte (Parrish).
The story itself was mostly on the predictable side, touching plenty of sports drama clichés and underdeveloped subplots while occasionally veering into cheese along the way. Despite the inevitable outcome, the ups and downs of the plot were still somewhat compelling to watch. However, it was nowhere near as impactful as it could have been, relying on derivative story beats that have been done countless times before. In addition to this, it doesn’t go nearly deep enough with Nagra’s (a real person) impact though the story was intercut with superflouous interview footage. For a boxing film, there wasn’t too much boxing to be had, however, the few boxing sequences we did get were decently shot.
The best part of the film was Singh’s performance as Nagra, albeit almost by default. He was somewhat compelling to watch despite the derivative story and all the clichés. Though there wasn’t much here besides him, you could still empathize with Nagra’s frustrations. Rourke as Donovan was okay even with his mediocre dialog but at least he got to hold a cute dog in every scene for whatever reason. Parrish as Charlotte was fine though the romantic subplot between her and Singh’s Nagra felt forced and never quite worked due to their lack of chemistry. Pugliese’s Doyle was an insufferable character that Pugliese admittedly should not get all the blame for as it was mostly caused by the script (which he coincidentally co-wrote).
Overall, this was a decent sports biopic despite being incredibly derivative and predictable. It was nowhere near as impactful as it could have been since its derivative nature lessens its important but familiar true story about overcoming racism. Being a boxing film, there wasn’t nearly enough of it. However, a compelling lead performance from Prem Singh keeps it all watchable.