Cricket

Sachin: A Billion Dreams

 24 years. 664 matches. 782 innings. 100 centuries. 164 half-centuries. 34357 runs. 201 wickets. 1 man.

SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR 

   The first memory I have of watching Sachin Tendulkar live was during India’s tour of England in 2007. He scored a beautiful 91 in the first innings of the second Test, which India won. I already admired the man since I’d watched dozens of old matches. But that was the first time I saw him bat live.

   I also recall watching his last innings in India flannels. He had scored a fluent 74 at the Wankhede against the Windies before an edge off Narsingh Deonarine ended his innings.

   This review is likely to be partial, since Sachin = One of The Supreme Powers. If you’re a Sachin detractor, I’d advise you to leave since you’re hardly likely to like what I’ve written. But try and stay. Don’t be like me. Be nice.

   Emmy award-nominated director James Erskine comes together with Carnival Motion Pictures and Ravi Bhagchandka to deliver a docudrama on one of India’s two legendary sportsmen, the other being Maj. Dhyan Chand.

   It’s a film different from the two most recent ones made on cricketers. Tony D’Souza’s Azhar was a pure, unadulterated PR exercise by match-fixer Mohd. Azharuddin. It was also one of the shittiest movies I’ve ever watched. Like there’s good movies. Okay movies. Bad movies. Ninety-nine feet of crap and then Azhar, joined by the likes of HumshakalsHimmatwala and Aag. Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story was a good film, but it white-washed Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The film was more about the performance delivered by Sushant Singh Rajput than anything else. It made one of Indian cricket’s finest captains seem like one of those classroom goody-goodies.

   This film is different. First up, it’s a docudrama. So there’s almost no role play, except for the early years of the man who came to be known as ‘The God of Cricket’. Those early bits show us the prankster, the schoolyard bully, the Arjuna to Ramakant Achrekar’s Drona, the boy who piled up 664 runs in a Harris Shield game with another future Indian cricketer. Along with that, there are narrations by Sachin; his wife Anjali; his mother; his aunt; his siblings Nitin, Savita and of course, Ajit; Sunil Gavaskar; his teammates Ravi Shastri, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli; his rivals Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Graeme Swann; legendary commentator Harsha Bhogle; and writers Gideon Haigh and Boria Majumdar.

   There is archival footage from Sachin’s early days in the international arena, including the broken nose incident in Pakistan. There is his maiden hundred at Manchester, his humdinger ODI knock against the Kiwis, his stint as Yorkshire County’s first overseas signing. The film leaves out his first one-day ton, which came close to five years after his debut. That he went on to make another forty-eight of those in seventeen years is a testament to the skill of Sachin.

   The film lacked bite when it covered Sachin’s captaincy post the ’96 World Cup, which culminated for India at Eden Gardens after the team shipped away seven wickets in twenty-two runs, the first of those seven being Sachin, who scored a wonderful 65 and was run out by keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana with the score at 98/1. Vinod Kambli leaving the field in tears is an unforgettable image for fans of Indian cricket – the tears symbolised both the sorrow and the shame of the defeat. The rift with predecessor-successor Azhar is glossed over, though craftily. Azhar’s poor performances were a major reason for India’s failures under Sachin, but the latter wasn’t the world’s greatest captain either. The film didn’t highlight Sachin’s disappointment at missing a double ton at Multan when stand-in captain Rahul Dravid declared the innings with Sachin on 194. This was in contrast to the Sydney Test in January that year, when Dravid had pursued a hundred against the decision of captain Ganguly and the team’s interests, perhaps the sole instance of The Wall pursuing a landmark. The film covered Greg Chappell’s disastrous stint as India’s coach, though Sachin remained mum and it was Bhajji who called the coach a headmaster. The match-fixing saga, which was prominently positioned in the trailer, saw Sachin retain his regular stance on the incident: that he knew nothing and even if he did, he had no concrete evidence.

   The pieces the film missed out on were Sachin’s dream run in the 2007-08 season, when he scored heavily against the Brits, the Pakis and the Aussies. The 100th 100 was also left out, maybe for the better because that was one of Sachin’s poorer tons.

   Despite its shortcomings, I loved the film. It had some heart-warming home videos of Sachin with his parents, with his kids and with his wife. Mrs. Tendulkar’s narration of their courtship and subsequent marriage was….what is that term….yeah, Awwworthy (Yeah, guys can use such words too). The bits about his relationship with his father, Ramesh Tendulkar, were beautiful, and I couldn’t help but admire Sachin for the umpteenth time for his hundred at Bristol in the World Cup, days after his father’s funeral. It was the lesser known side of the man that was the engaging part of the film, though the cricketing journey was a memorable walk down the memory lane. People know him as a world-class cricketer, but the film also shows us the son, the brother, the husband and the father. Footage of Sachin with son Arjun and with his friends was included, and one could see the non-cricketing side of the man. There were also bits of footage from his visits to various institutions, including what seemed like a school for the visually impaired.

   What the film highlighted most effectively was the love people have for Sachin. There has never really been a sportsman as loved in India as Sachin is. Not only was he a fine cricketer, he is also a humble human being. And it is that humbleness of him that endears people to him. Though I do not believe in the concept of there existing a supreme being, this quote of Matthew Hayden’s, in the context of how religious and god-fearing a majority of Indians are, is apt: have seen God. And he bats at No. 4 for India.

   The lion’s share of the credit for the film goes to director James Erskine and producer Ravi Bhagchandka. Erskine’s direction is a lot like Neeraj Pandey’s in MSD, devoid of personal devotion. He lets the emotions free from the other end and keeps his work strictly technical. Bhagchandka, who also served as Creative Producer on the film, does a good job as well, given the vastness of the subject. It is the coordination between Erskine and Bhagchandka that makes the film a finer product. AR Rahman delivers decent music, the best of the tracks being the Sukhwinder-crooned ‘Sachin Sachin’. DoP Chris Openshaw does a fine job with his non-intrusive cameras. Expect a lot of close-ups and static shots.

Watch Sachin: A Billion Dreams. It is more than a film. It is a journey relived, an emotional and joyous experience, and most importantly, a film about one of the greatest cricketers the world will ever see.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams: 4.75/5

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Varun Bhakay

for

Varun Bhakay’s Writer’s Block

June 1st, 2017

Images: Google Images and IMDb

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A Fresh, Interesting Film-MS Dhoni: The Untold Story

Seldom does one see a visionary director like Neeraj Pandey. His scripts are as different from each other as possible and from the usual Bollywood fare-A Wednesday, Special 26 and Baby. Yet, he is no Anurag Kashyap. Nor is he a Bhansali. Nor a Johar. Pandey is, without a doubt, the most technically sound director in Hindi cinema today. He is in a class of his own, much like his subject.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A name every cricket fan knows. Easily India’s best wicketkeeper-batsman and one of the country’s finest cricket captains, there is nothing that I can say here about MSD that you won’t know.

The film covers the important parts and personalities in the life of Indian cricket’s limited-overs skipper from his birth in 1981 to the final of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup. The interesting part is that much of the film is off the field, but it still manages to be enjoyable, unlike Azhar. It is also very real. There are no caricatures in Neeraj Pandey’s latest outing.

There are a few chinks in the armour of the film, though. Post-interval, you will see once again, like you did in Special 26, the reason why Pandey should steer clear of romance. That the two romantic tracks manage to be engaging is more due to the competence of the actors than anything else. The visual effects, executed by Prime Focus, are shoddy and amateurish for a film of this scale. Prana or Red Chillies would’ve done a far better job. Compositing Rajput’s face on Dhoni’s is done well, but the green screen areas are poorly-done.

The screeplay by Pandey and Dilip Jha is engaging and fast-moving, which is a surprise, given the film’s runtime. It flows smoothly and doesn’t jar, though it could’ve been more fluid during the romantic bits. Sudhir Palsane’s cameras move superbly, capturing the cricket like never before on celluloid. He uses close-ups effectively and utilises hand-held cameras exceedingly well. Pandey sticks to the ‘Untold Story’ and directs marvelously within the framework he sets for the film. He has no intention of covering an enormous amount of cricket. Yet, one is felt wanting for more because of the lack of behind-the-scenes scenarios. The editing is crisp.

Anupam Kher brings Pan Singh to life brilliantly and flourishes as the slightly conflicted Indian dad. The actress playing MSD’s mother is also very good. Bhoomika Chawla is like most didis, supportive and by the younger brother’s side even when the chips are down. The three actors who play Dhoni’s friends and benefactor also leave their mark. Herry Tangri turns up as a snobbish, ultra-cool Yuvraj Singh and does his job well. Kumud Mishra and Rajesh Sharma both do complete justice to their roles. Disha Patani as Dhoni’s late girlfriend Priyanka is decent but Kiara Advani’s Sakshi is a sincerely-performed and rather well-enacted role. The star of the show is, for obvious reasons, Sushant Singh Rajput in the titular role. The effort put in by Rajput is evident as he pretty much nails all of Dhoni’s physical attributes, his way of speaking and most importantly, his cricket. The batting and wicket-keeping have the unmistakable stamp of Dhoniness to them. Rajput deserves a standing ovation for his portrayal of one of India’s most-successful cricket captains.

The film glosses over controversies but it does so intelligently. Azhar tried showing the controversies and failed miserably. The makers had put forth their agenda for the movie much before the release, so don’t go in expecting a lot of dressing room gossip. Plus, controversies are subjective as per a person’s point of view. The film clocks in at a bum-aching 190 minutes but doesn’t seem like a drag, much to Pandey’s credit. Credit is due to the writers for not screwing up the reality in the name of dramatisation, as Prasoon Joshi did for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

Watch the film for the inspiring story of a lad from Ranchi, for Neeraj Pandey’s direction, for some fine performances by the supporting cast, and for Sushant Singh Rajput.

MS Dhoni: The Untold Story: 3.5/5.

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Image: Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

Varun Bhakay’s Writer’s Block (2016)