Reeling in Cricket Drama
Sports drama is my favourite genre in movies. From 'Cool Runnings' to 'Dangal', something about sports drama makes me choke up (when they are made well) and seize up (when not). Even as the number of Indian films that use sports as a backdrop multiplied over the years, it remained a matter of concern for that there were not too many movies based on cricket. (When I looked up the info I found to my surprise that over forty cricket-based movies are listed, perhaps more. How come I never heard of them?)
As far as my research goes you could count cricket-based movies on your fingers before 2000. The incomparable Dev Anand, always ahead of his time, appears to be the one who started off the trend with a 1959 movie titled 'Love Marriage' about a Jhansi-based cricketer who falls in love and marries. In 1984, 'All Rounder' arrived with Kumar Gaurav in the lead - a movie where the version of cricket that the hero and the villain play didn't work at all. To fix the cricket aspect, a new formula was tried. Dashing Test cricketer Sandeep Patil played the lead role of a cricketer with suitable romantic distractions provided to him in the form of Poonam Dhilon and Debashree Roy in the 1985 movie 'Kabhi Ajnabi The'. Syed Kirmani played the villain. It bombed - an indication that there was something wrong with that formula too. Just when everyone probably wrote cricket stories off, Dev saab returned once again in 1990 – this time as a coach in 'Awwal Number' with Aamir Khan as his star pupil. (One reason why Dev saab's cricket did not work could be that he never kept his head still - so important for all things cricket.) That knocked the wind out of the sails for cricket-based movies for a long time.
By now the industry probably realized that this seemingly potent combination of films and cricket, the two great escapes of the Indian middle class, was not working and gave up. What they probably did not realise was that cricketers, who could not act and actors who could not play cricket were difficult to digest. The Indian public knew its cricket. No one made any serious effort to get both the cricket and the story right. All hopes of watching a well made cricket movie vanished for me.
Things changed post 2000 and a spate of cricket-based movies were made, increasing the number almost ten-fold to two score. To choose my best among this selection, I dropped movies that merely used cricket as a backdrop to drive some other story. 'Hattrick', 'Stumped', 'Ferrari ki Sawaari', '99', 'Meerabai Not Out' among others were fun movies but did not have enough cricket for me. I set aside the biopics of Azhar, Dhoni and Sachin. I looked for movies where the cricket appealed to my cricketing sensibilities - a team angle or an angle about a cricketer in quest of excellence – and chose five.
Topping my list is 'Lagaan'. I believe it was 'Lagaan' that in 2001 changed the cricket movie scenario in India forever. For the first time they got everything right. It is every boy's fantasy to win a match in the final with a last ball six and 'Lagaan' delivered that dream perfectly. The backdrop of the story superbly set up the cricket, and everything about the cricket worked - the team of villagers, who had never played cricket before and had only been coached superficially by an English memsaab did not look out of sorts. More importantly, 'Lagaan' for me espoused all that cricket stood for– team spirit, leadership, excellence, equality, fair play. It set a high standard for all others to follow – box office and otherwise.
'Iqbal' was a worthy follow up to 'Lagaan'. Nagesh Kukunoor's clever treatment to his fine script about a deaf mute, who loves cricket worked beautifully. The main obstacles to Iqbal achieving his goals are several – and include his father, who wants the boy to take up farming. With encouragement from his mom, sister and an alcoholic coach, Iqbal overcomes his difficulties and achieves his dreams. Shreyas Talpade worked enough on his cricket to develop one of the finest actions, I have seen for a fast bowler. The cricket was credible, the drama as good. No complaints.
Chennai 600028 (2007)
Following these two heavyweights for me is the Tamil movie 'Chennai 600028'. It has so much heart, is so unaffected and is relatable. It is a fun movie about tennis ball street cricket where the underdog team gets its act together to beat its sworn enemy from another locality. The cricket worked perfectly and the setting is something we all can relate to. No wonder it has been remade in Telugu, Kannada, Bengali and Sinhalese.
Chain Kulii ki Main Khulii (2007)
Next on my list is 'Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii' – the story of a 13- year-old orphan who chances upon an old bat that he believes belonged to Kapil Dev when he played the 1983 World Cup. He believes that this 'magic bat' is lucky for him and starts scoring heavily. So well does he play that he is picked to play for the Indian team at 13 (give me a break!). But his opponents destroy the magic bat before a crucial match, and he has to wake up to reality that it's not about the bat but about himself. Belief is such an integral part of a cricketers make up and this is the key reason why this cute little school boy movie makes it to my list.
Golconda High School (2011)
I cannot end this list without mentioning the Telugu movie 'Golconda High School' based on my novel 'The Men Within' (2007). I wrote the novel because I knew there was a gap to be filled for young cricketers and readers – I would have loved to read a novel like that when I was young – about an underdog team that finds a common purpose, uses all resources and grows in the process. I am glad that the producer (and my brother) Ram Mohan and director Indraganti Mohana Krishna kept the soul of the book intact. It will remain an all-time favourite of mine for obvious reasons.
'Patiala House', 'Dil Bole Hadippa', 'Victory' missed out mainly because I did not watch them. I haven't watched the Telugu films 'Dhoni', 'Jersey', 'Majili', either but they seem to have themes that work. With India at the World Cup 2019 I am sure there are many film makers thinking up cricket-based movies on stars, coaches, matches, fans and so on. Hopefully they will add to my list of memorable cricket films – ones that I would like to watch again. And again.
The writer is the author of the book 'The Men Within' based on which the Telugu film, 'Golconda High School' was made in the year 2011