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Pedal to the Mettle

Courtesy photo

Tunka Tunka (2021)

The inspirational sports movie “Tunka Tunka” revolves around the wholly fictional competitive cyclist Fateh Singh Sidhu, as an adult played by the singer Hardeep Grewal in his big-screen debut – who also serves as the screenwriter. Despite the dearth of song and dance numbers, the film is not entirely devoid of conventions and clichés. Nevertheless, Mr. Grewal leaves no doubt that he understands the assignment and has done his homework.

Son of poor farmer Avtar Singh Sidhu (Sardar Sohi), young Fateh (Sameep Ranaut) passes time on his bicycle racing against trains passing through the city. He catches the attention of coach Arjan Singh (Balwinder Bullet of “Puaada”), who wants to enroll him in a sports academy. Although his dad refuses, Fateh eventually gets to pursue his passion after taking another kid’s bike on a joyride and consequently getting kicked out of the house.

Just as the adult Fateh is close to reaching his life goal, he is set back by cancer. Here’s where the film takes a detour from the generic sports-underdog movie and sets its sights on even greater obstacles in life, à la “Million Dollar Baby” and the more recent “My Love” and “Never Stop.”

Although terminal illness is itself a trope, Mr. Grewal’s depiction of cancer treatment is so accurate in its details as to leave little doubt that he did extensive research. As an actor, he also commits himself to the same method-acting weight loss previously undertaken by Christian Bale for “The Machinist” to look like a ghost of his former self. One glaring oversight is that Mr. Grewal doesn’t appear to have invested in learning about life in remission. Fateh bounces back into the bike saddle in no time, when it would realistically take much longer for a cancer patient to fully recover.

While characters in “Million Dollar Baby,” “My Love” and “Never Stop” must abandon their dreams after sustaining serious injuries, Fateh and the film itself manage to get back on the predictable triumph-over-adversity track.

During closing credits, Mr. Grewal recounts the three-year marathon of getting the film made – and it would take it an additional year to reach cinemas due to Covid. It’s a truly admirable undertaking, and his effort and commitment both as a screenwriter and an actor should be lauded.


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