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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Hockey star Sandeep Singh on his biopic Soorma, and why he hasn't seen it yet

He isn't worried: 'It is my story, they spoke to me so what could go wrong? Without trust you cannot do anything. If you are driving with someone, you have to trust that he will drive well'

Hockey team members lift player Sandeep Singh of India after winning the men's field hockey match between India and France for the final position of the FIH London 2012 Olympic Hockey qualifying tournament at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on February 26, 2012. AFP
Hockey team members lift player Sandeep Singh of India after winning the men's field hockey match between India and France for the final position of the FIH London 2012 Olympic Hockey qualifying tournament at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on February 26, 2012. AFP

It is raining biopics in Bollywood.

However, Soorma is different from Rajkumar Hirani's film Sanju on Sanjay Dutt. It hits screens this Thursday in the UAE, a day ahead of when movie-goers in India get to watch it, and it's the real-life story of international hockey player Sandeep Singh.

While Sanju documents the luxury-to-jail life of a famous father's son, Soorma is the rags-to-riches, guts and glory story of Sandeep, better known as "Flicker Singh". The drag-flicker and hockey defender still holds the record for pulling a dead ball at a speed of 145km/hour, years after having played his last game in 2014.

The more astonishing fact is that Singh was paralysed after being shot in the spine in a freak accident in 2006, and was told he could never play, but went on to make a comeback, and in style too.

He hasn't seen the film, but he trusts the filmmakers

"I am humbled, and am eagerly waiting - like all of you - to see the movie in theatres," Singh told The National. Does he mean he hasn’t seen even a rough glimpse of his bio pic? "Yes, I haven't seen the rushes or screening or anything like that. Theek hi hoga [Should be all fine]," he adds in his Punjabi accent, his confidence stemming from the fact that the production team discussed the story with him throughout the film's making.

The movie marks the debut as a producer for actress Chitrangda Singh, who collaborated with Sony Pictures Network Productions, and was eager to publicise Sandeep's story. Hailing from small town Shahabad Markanda, in the northern state of Haryana, Sandeep never liked hockey to begin with, but claims to now still sleeps with a hockey stick in his bed.

There's another difference between this and Sanjay Dutt's biopic that becomes clear even before watching Soorma: while Dutt has been insecure and blames the media for a career marred with controversies, Sandeep is calm personified.

"It is my story, they spoke to me so what could go wrong? Without trust you cannot do anything. If you are driving with someone, you have to trust that he will drive well. If not, and if you could drive yourself, the situation would not arise. So if someone is driving, you have to trust him.”

Sandeep is also full praise for Diljit Dosanjh, the singer-actor, who is representing him on reel. The movie required Dosanjh to spend more than three months with Sandeep and learn hockey. Sandeep is more than complimentary on Dosanjh's skills with the stick: "You won't find any difference in the film than our real life."

This praise is toned down a little with further prodding. "He really started playing well towards the end of the period. You will see for yourself. He even got the drag-flick action correct towards the end. Of course, he could not get the speed, and understandably so."

Sandeep's incredible story

Two years after his 2004 professional hockey debut, Sandeep was shot while travelling by train to join the team for the World Cup in Germany in 2006. An army man was cleaning his rifle and it went off accidentally, tragically putting his career in question. But never has he looked back on the past with regret or blamed the soldier.

Despite coming back in grand style - the details of which we will leave for you to see on the big screen - Sandeep is just 32, and has now been away from the Indian team since 2014.

Unofficially, Sandeep is retired and has also spoken about his plans to start working on an academy. But Michael Nobbs, India's coach in 2013, went on record to say Sandeep "needed to reinvent himself" despite reasonable successes.

The cold shoulder should have rankled a player who went through a lot to come back, and lives by the motto "never give up", but again Sandeep does not betray any resentment.

"It is all about opportunity. In 2014, I was not selected. Ok. But in 2015 and even in 2016, I was the top-scorer in the Hockey India League. Yet, I was not selected. Maybe, beyond the goals, the younger players are better than me so I guess I have to make way. Bygones are bygones now. If I have to take the fight to them [the administrators] I will have to get my hands dirty, and I don't want to do that. I am more focused on mentoring others now."

His first student it seems, is the actor Dosanjh, who also took extra effort to understand Sandeep's time in a wheelchair for the role by spending time with some Paralympic athletes as well.

"He [Dosanjh] worked really hard. There was some fun and play as well. It went off smoothly," says Sandeep about training Dosanjh.

As for whether he'd like a career in acting, the player responds again with unabashed panache, "That is a natural thing. If I have it, maybe I will get the opportunity in the future."

Fast facts about Sandeep Singh

Born: February 27, 1986

Playing position: Full-back

Career achievements

Jan 2004 - Debuts with two goals at the Azlan Shah Cup tournament

Apr 2004 - Junior Asia Cup top-scorer, 16 goals

Mar 2006 - Commonwealth Games top-scorer, 7 goals

May 2008 - Returns to the Azlan Shah Cup, top-scorer, 8 goals. India comes second

Apr 2009 - Azlan Shah Cup, as captain, 6 goals. India win

Nov 2010 - Asian Games top-scorer, 11 goals

2010 - Arjuna Award winner

Feb 2012 - Olympics qualifiers top-scorer, 16 goals. India qualified after 8 years.

2013 - First Hockey India League top-scorer, 11 goals

What is a drag-flick goal?

Here are some great examples: you can see Sandeep at 2 minutes 40 seconds:

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Read more from Kumar:

5 reasons why Sanju is definitely not a Sanjay Dutt biopic

Neil Nitin Mukesh on Saaho, 'his most important role' yet

Film review: Rajinikanth's latest film Kaala is confused and truly terrible

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