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When the movie Toolsidas Junior showed up on my Netflix feed, I was intrigued. Tulsidas, of course, is the venerated poet who penned Ramcharitmanas. The suffix “Junior” after the name raised my curiosity because, having lived in the American South, the suffix reminded me of old cotton estates. But this film is about neither.
Toolsidas Junior is the story of a teenager, Midi (Varun Buddhadev), who loves watching his dad Toolsidas play snooker. Toolsidas is played by the late Rajiv Kapoor, who unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack in 2021.
When his father fails multiple times at the Calcutta Club Snooker Championship match, Midi is upset. He decides to take his dad’s cue stick into his own hands—literally—and master the game to win the trophy for his father.
On his quest, Midi meets the eccentric Salaam at a club. When he watches Salaam’s game, the kid knows that he has found his guru. He sets on an arduous journey of bunking classes, and taking tram rides to the bad part of town every day for months. His goal is to learn the mysterious ways of the twenty-two balls in the game of snooker.
Sanjay Dutt plays Mohammad Salaam aka Salaam bhai jaan, a former onetime national snooker champion, now living in the trenches of the offbeat snooker club in the dusty, overcrowded suburb of Wellington in Calcutta. Salaam bhai jaan reminded me of Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi (Pat Morita) from the 1984 American classic The Karate Kid. Salaam, with his deep kohled eyes, plays an improbable mentor to the 13-year-old Midi, just Mr. Miyagi was to Ralph Macchio’s character, Daniel LaRusso.
When Toolsidas Senior loses for the nth time to the undefeated champion Jimmy Tandon (a very dapper-looking Dalip Tahil at age 69—I remember him as a Xavierite who became popular as a Bombay Dyeing model), the teenager pledges to have his father’s name on the winner’s board.
Written and directed by Mridul Mahendra, and produced by Ashutosh Gowarikar, the film is quite enjoyable. I hope Sanjay Dutt receives an award for his restrained acting. It was nice change from his previous movies, Parineeta and Munnabhai.
Sanjay Dutt is perfect in this role. No overacting. A stolid, silent snooker player. A man with one purpose in life—snooker. A man of few words, he speaks with great austerity but packs a punch every time. Much like a well-balanced cue hitting the central axis of the ball (or bum, as he calls it). His colloquial analogies are hilarious! “Pinky problem hai… Finishing problem hai…”
I loved the part where Sanjay Dutt just covers his face with a handkerchief and takes an hour-long nap on the bench of the Wellington club. I know that he had to apply kaajal and chew betel leaf to embrace his character, but I hated him spitting in the corner of the club—a nasty habit!
Rajiv Kapoor is perfect for the role of the doting father and loving husband, who can never understand why he is always defeated.
The role of the older brother, Goti (Chinmai Chandranshuh), who casts himself in the role of a manager/bookie for Midi, is rather droll. At age eighteen, he dresses like a mafia don, and thinks that he is of legal age for gambling. He is obsessed with making money at the drop of a hat!
True Life Events In Calcutta
Snooker literally means to dupe or deceive, but actually it is a game of focus and muscle memory. In real life, Pankaj Advani has won the International Billiards and Snooker Federation world championship a record twenty-three times, but our cricket-crazy media did not make a big deal about it.
Toolsidas Junior is inspired by true life events set in Calcutta. The movie doesn’t dwell on the intricacies and rules of the game, like the size of the cue stick, height of the side rails, size of the balls. Nor does it tell us that India is the birthplace of snooker.
In fact, the story isn’t about the sport at all: it is about the bond between a coach and his protégé, and a son’s pledge to uphold a father’s honor. It is about the now-obscure ex-pro seeking glory through his protégé.
Toolsidas Junior is a clean film without violence, obscenity or melodrama.