Penalty is a well-meaning but mostly flaccid first feature film from Director Shubham Singh. Singh uses football as a vehicle to weave a narrative about discrimination in northern India.
In the story, Lukram (Lukram Smil), a footballer from Manipur, travels halfway across the country to attend college in Lucknow and try out for the soccer team. Manipur is near the border with Myanmar (Burma), and as the film progresses, Lukram’s ethnic culture and Asian appearance make him a target of team prejudice and abuse.
The taciturn Lukram is befriended by his bubbly Muslim roommate Ishwar (Manjot Singh) and the open-minded assistant coach Parth (Shashank Arora). In a matter of days, Parth trains Lukram to be a left-footed attacking winger and the best player on the team!
But scenery-chewing Coach Vikram (Kay Kay Menon) excludes Lukram from team selection, because the Manipuri man is an outsider whose photo should never hang on Vikram’s wall of fame. It is then up to Lukram to find his inner gumption.
That’s just the first 75 minutes of the movie. In the rest of the story, Lukram joins a street football team, and eventually they play a friendly against his old team. The street football team is good at keepy-uppy. They and the character Ishwar were the only parts of this 2-hour film that I found entertaining.
Cultural differences and discrimination
Outside of the team, Director Singh and writer Akhilesh Choudhary show the college as being diverse and welcoming. We see Ishwar wind his turban. Lukram experiences non-Manipuri food and learns to write Hindi just so he can compose a love letter to a fellow student. A group of students try to pressure the coach by protesting Lukram’s exclusion from the team. Coach Parth comes to the grim realization that maybe his own selection as a player was not based on merit.
There are some inconsistencies in the story, such as Lukram disappears from the college campus but remains enrolled as a student. Coach Vikram is anti-outsider but his reasoning doesn’t make sense, nor does the final play of the game. Lastly, trying to break a teammate’s leg with a club (rather than with a well-timed tackle) is an idea from Lethal Soccer Mom that should never be repeated.
It seemed to me that the creators just wanted to leverage football’s popularity but knew little about the game. The soccer practices are almost embarrassing to watch. The games aren’t much better, mostly with shots of coaches cheering or grimacing at every goal.
Lukram Smil’s debut performance is quite silent, suffering, and wooden. It’s strange because in a youtube interview, he apparently has a lot of personality. It’s too bad that the creators made him portray an Asian stereotype in the film.
Also note that I was unsure if the “outsider” point of the movie was due to Lukram’s Asian appearance, because it was not blatantly clear on Netflix. However, the trailer has a locker room scene where the abusive players call Lukram “chinky”. I guess that sub-title was edited out of Netflix. BTW, the trailer encapsulates the whole plot. Also note, this is the first Indian film I’ve seen where so much spoken English is dropped into casual conversation. I wondered how common that is.
As a football movie, there is actually quite a lot of practice and game footage in Penalty. But that’s no reason to watch this film, and even in a pandemic, there are probably better things worth your time.
5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5