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Cricket on the other screen

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Navjot_Singh_Siddhu_IPL_commentator_commentary_T20_cricketThe cricketer-Bollywood nexus has provided a lot of meat and rice for journalists over the years. We know about all the dalliances and flirtations (Ravi Shastri, as portrayed in the movie Azhar), breakups (Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli) and heartbreaks, successful marriages (MAK Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore) and successful divorces (Mohsin Khan and Reena Roy; Azharuddin and Sangeeta Bijlani).

There are also instances of frays into acting – Sunil Gavaskar did a good job in a Marathi movie. But there were also less memorable ones – Ajay Jadeja, Vinod Kambli, Sandeep Patil etc…Kapil Dev had some cameos in Hindi movies and so did some others.

The music industry has also held some charm for cricketers – Brett Lee and AB de Villiers at once come to mind. The cricketer-television nexus (apart from regular commentating) brings Navjot Sidhu to mind instantly.

Willows in the Woods...

In the realm of movies, Bollywood, Kollywood (Tamil), Tollywood (Telugu), Pollywood (Pakistan), Sollywood (Sri Lanka) and Collywood (the Caribbean) have all had a go at it. I am not very sure but a friend of mine was also referring to some made in Hollywood of late.

I would like to recount an incident from 2006. When I told Håvard Bergsdal, a former colleague of mine, that I play a lot of cricket, he referred instantly to Lagaan and also remembered ‘Aamir Khan’. That was the first Indian movie he had watched in Trondheim, Norway, where it was screened by the Indian Students Forum in the city. That was when I thought that it made no difference that Lagaan did not get recognition at the Oscars. Norway is not a cricket-playing nation. If cricket is played at all, it is by Asian immigrants and others from the British Commonwealth who study or work in the country. And here was a Norwegian who had watched the movie (with English subtitles) and enjoyed it thoroughly!

Lagaan was most certainly a ‘watershed event’ in world cinema, though I may be accused of resorting to hyperbole. One could as well think of pre-Lagaan and post-Lagaan eras in Indian cinema. In this movie on cricket (essentially fiction, but based on some historical accounts of similar happenings in British India), a poor farmer in 19th century India displays inimitable team-building and management skills as coach, mentor, manager, captain, batsman, bowler and fielder, to beat the Poms at their own game. This, many years before that greatest of team-builders – Mahatma Gandhi – started his struggle for Indian independence against the British. The poor farmer – the protagonist of Lagaan – would certainly have been one of the 360 million people who supported the Mahatma in the struggle.

Lagaan will linger on, even after we are long gone...and it will most probably leave in the shade all the other movies that have been or will be made on cricket. I recollect my father watching the movie as if it was a real ODI being played and asking me what the scores were.

I am writing this as Azhar has been released and MS Dhoni – The Untold Story is awaiting release later this year. Both true stories (with some fictional elements thrown in for dramatic effect obviously) but the protagonists are not poor farmers from rural India, but extremely-affluent and globe-trotting urbanites.

In Azhar, it is about the rise of a humble and level-headed, hard-working young man from a devout, middle-class family, and his fall due to hubris. The first feedback I received from a friend’s son about the movie Azhar was that it is very much below par. I watched the trailer on YouTube and agree with him. Perhaps, the trailer could have been structured a bit more cleverly? But I will wait and watch the movie someday and find out for myself.

 

A friend of mine asked me whether movies on the lives and careers of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman etc., would ever be made. I had to tell him that these cricketers are workhorse-legends and perhaps their biopics would be staid and boring unless a skilled director contributed with his creative genius. Azhar’s life and career had all the elements of a Bollywood masala movie built in.

Azhar was my boyhood hero. I recall trying to walk like he did, and succeeding. Friends and classmates often pointed that out and I used to feel proud. This was in the 1980s. I tried (with disastrous results) to bat and field like him when I played cricket in my teenage years. I also recall waiting close to Dadar (in central Mumbai) railway station for over 6 hours, dressed in cricket-whites, when it was reported that his marriage procession (with Naureen) would pass by. I recall having drunk a lot of ‘cutting chais’ in the process. I certainly feel foolish now when I look back and think of those days!

Now, a good cricket movie is Iqbal: a Nagesh Kukunoor gem which the inebriated guru – Naseeruddin Shah – and his persistent and never-say-give-up pupil Shreyas Talpade, made a treat for the eyes, ears, mind and heart of the viewers. The backdrop of Iqbal was 20th century Gujarat; Kai Po Che was set in the same state in the new millennium, and while cricket was a sub-theme in this movie, the main theme was the Hindi-Muslim riots that took place back when India’s current PM was CM in that state.

I liked both these movies, but not as much as Lagaan. As far as Lagaan goes, the dialogues, scenes and even the facial expressions of the actors – the Indian playing XI and all the others - will remain etched in my memory.

Kumar Gaurav played an ‘All Rounder’ in 1984, six years before Aamir Khan, fresh from his wonderful debut in QSQT, appeared in a Dev Anand movie – Awwal Number. Awwal Number, for Aamir Khan himself, would have been like coal to the Kohinoor diamond - Lagaan -  that would follow it much later.

I recall having seen both these movies but do not remember much, even though I was obsessed with cricket then, as a teenager. Form is temporary, class is permanent...as they say about cricketers. One could put Lagaan in the latter category, and most of the others in the former category.

There was ‘Stumped’ produced by Raveena Tandon, which came and went, stumped first ball. ‘Victory’ starring Harman Baweja failed. The experimental venture ‘Dil Bole Hadippa’ in which Rani Mukherjee disguises herself as a Sikh man to play cricket with the men, was entertaining. Of course, credit to Rani who is a good actress. ‘Patiala House’ could have been handled better, but maybe it was meant to be that way to fit Akshay Kumar? Chain Khuli ki Main Khuli (Rahul Bose), I have not watched, but the title of the movie is a bit off-putting. Need to watch it to find out. Ferrari ki Sawari started off well, accelerated steadily, but then ended in a crash. Boman Irani though, was entertaining in the first half of the movie. This can be likened to a batting collapse (courtesy irresponsible batting) after a steady start by the openers. Something readers can recall from the 1970s and 1980s, when Sunil Gavaskar’s dismissal would trigger a freefall.

Pollywood (the Pakistan film industry) glorified Shahid Afridi in 2013 not in a biopic, but by basing a film on the ambition of a young boy to grow up and play cricket like Afridi did. A similar movie had been released the previous year in Kollywood – directed by and starring the versatile Prakash Raj. In this one, a young boy instead of focusing on his education (which his father played by Prakash Raj wishes), is obsessed with playing cricket and becoming a player like MS Dhoni. This brought back memories of my own boyhood days and I realised how agitated my father would have been then.

Still on Kollywood, there was a Tamil movie called Chennai 600028 based on street cricket played in that zip code of Chennai. Not a bad movie; it used cricket as two slices of bread and packed a range of human emotions in between them.

We could have just stuck to India, but we did cross the border to Pakistan to visit Shahid Afridi so it would be necessary to cross the Palk Strait and talk of the Sinhalese movie Sinhawalokanaya. Cricket is as popular in Sri Lanka, as it is in India or Pakistan or Bangladesh, so Sollywood would certainly not leave it out as a theme for a film.

There has been a clutch of cricket-themed films made in the UK, the Caribbean, Australia and South Africa and, let us not forget, a host of TV-serials and documentaries; Bodyline comes to mind instantly. Mention must be made of the two films on Hansie Cronje’s life – Hansie : A True Story, and the more recent Journey to Grace: The Hansie Cronje Story. I would surely like to watch both of these someday soon. They must surely be better than Azhar. Revolving around the same theme, but setting a wonderful example of contrition.

A guaranteed superhit movie would be a biopic on the “great” S Sreesanth! He has already made forays into Mollywood (what else but the Malayalam film industry) and perhaps he could play himself in this biopic. Truly versatile, this guy.

Cricket does not need the film industry to sustain its popularity. But the film industry does get a good boost if it factors cricket into its works. And in a billion-plus country which is cricket-crazy and film-frenzied at the same time, this is a dizzying cocktail to have.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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