Picture this: An 18-year old deaf-mute dreams of overcoming his economical, emotional and physical handicaps to become a national-level cricketer. The mom supports his struggle to achieve his dream, but the father disapproves. The resilient never-say-die protagonist is bamboozled and tutored into success by his burnt-out alcoholic coach.
Sounds familiar? And why should it not! We saw a similar struggle celebrating the spirit of survival and triumph in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Black", where a deaf and blind girl fought her way into an emotional and academic freedom with the help of a burnt-out alcoholic but impassioned coach.
If you close your eyes, Naseeruddin Shah and Amitabh Bachchan's roles seem interchangeable.
"But that's a complete mistake," Kukunoor retorts, as he pre-empts the inevitable comparisons.
"On the contrary, 'Iqbal' is not about the protagonist's physical handicap at all. If you notice, right from the start Iqbal Khan's physical impairment is not an issue at all. No one in his family or immediate vicinity draws attention to his condition.
"There's no pity or self-pity. Iqbal is treated like a normal person, so much so that the audience wouldn't notice his disability if Iqbal didn't communicate in sign language," Kukunoor maintained.
At the same time, he agreed there would be comparisons between the two films.
"But they would be completely baseless. I repeat, 'Iqbal' has absolutely nothing to do with 'Black'. And I certainly wouldn't be amused or flattered by the comparisons," Kukunoor contended.
Producer Subhash Ghai added that the script for 'Iqbal' was readied long before 'Black'.
"We were only looking for the right person to direct the project. That's where Nagesh Kukunoor came in," Ghai said.
"I think it's unfair to compare 'Iqbal' with 'Black'. Sanjay Bhansali's film was much larger, much more expansive in terms of characters, stars, sentiments, setting, production and emotions. 'Iqbal' is a simple film with life-like characters.
"It doesn't pity the protagonist for his physical handicap. The only factor common to both 'Black' and 'Iqbal' is the physically challenged protagonist. But 'Khilona', 'Khamoshi' and 'Koshish' also dealt with the same theme. They all belonged to different schools of narratives. So does 'Iqbal'. Like 'Black' and all the other films I mentioned, ours is a good inspirational film," Ghai argued.
Whatever be the truth, comparisons are bound to be drawn between the two films. Just as earlier creatively distant but thematically proximate films have been compared...for example...'Nazar' and 'Naina' a couple of months ago, though 'Black' and 'Iqbal' move into a totally different stratosphere of excellence.