Sultan to Chak De and Lagaan:  Bollywood’s affair with sports

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 07, 2016 13:23 IST
Salman Khan plays Sultan Ali Khan, a wrestler in Abbas Ali Zafar’s Sultan that hits theatres on Wednesday. (AFP PHOTO)

Sultan kick-starts this year’s Bollywood trend of sports films on Wednesday: Soon, we will see Aamir Khan follow in the footsteps of Salman Khan as he too plays a wrestler in Dangal. Sushant Singh Rajput,too, will be seen playing cricketer MS Dhoni onscreen.

Read: Sultan movie review

However, this isn’t the first time our films have games as their subject. We take a look at sports films that created a storm at the domestic box office and highlighted the stories of real life sports personalities onscreen that courted both controversies and appreciation alike.

Chak De India

Chak De! India explores religious bigotry, the legacy of partition, ethnic and regional prejudice, and sexism in contemporary India through field hockey. (HT PHOTO)

The Shah Rukh Khan starrer is one of the most watched and loved sports movies in India. The plot begins with the story of a national hockey player who gets entangled in a fixing row. He loses his place in the team after a loss to Pakistan. He is then considered an outcast in his hometown Mohalla and eventually has to move from his ancestral house in Old Delhi. But his zeal to make a comeback in hockey keeps his fire burning. His playing days almost over, he wants to win back the confidence of the public which he had lost due to the fixing scandal. And as luck would have it, he gets a chance to coach the women’s national team and grooms the side to a World Cup win. The emotional drama tugged at the heart strings of the nation and the movie went on to be a major hit.It also shined a much awaited spotlight on hockey as an integral Indian sport.

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

This was a biopic based on India’s most decorated athlete Milkha Singh that starred Farhan Akhtar. (AFP PHOTO)

As the name suggests, this was a biopic based on India’s most decorated athlete Milkha Singh. The movie not only inspired a lot of sportspersons but also had an emotional connect with fans across north India. It portrays the early life of Milkha in pre-independence Pakistan. It shows his struggle after he is forced to leave everything and come to Delhi as a refugee having lost his parents too in the bloodshed of the partition. The movie unfolds to trace Milkha’s growing years in old Delhi, moving on to joining the army as a soldier and then growing into India’s most successful athlete.


Lagaan revolved around the peasants from a village who are oppressed by high taxes imposed by their rulers. (HT PHOTO)

The Aamir Khan led plot dates back to the British Raj in India. The storyline shows how a small village near Bhuj in Gujarat finds it extremely difficult to produce crops in a near-drought situation. However, the British government is only concerned about the tax they collect from the village in kind, which is called Lagaan. With no work possible in the parched fields, the young villagers spend their days watching the British play cricket.The movie is based on how a bunch of farmers learn to play cricket in just about two months, carve willows themselves, sew leg-guards and eventually beat the British in a three-day game to get their tax burden cancelled.

Read: The rise and fall of Salman Khan films


Emraan Hashmi in the first look from Azhar, biopic on Mohammad Azharuddin.

This is a biopic based on the life of former India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. Actor Emraan Hashmi plays the role of the cricketer. The movie shows the ups in the life of Azhar beginning with his amazing Test career, how he earns the respect of the Indian public and takes command of the side. Later, the director shows how Azhar is convicted in a match fixing scandal in 2000 and his cricket career comes to a dot. The movie goes on to portray him in good light saying how he once again managed to win hearts by getting elected in the parliament.

Mary Kom

Priyanka-Chopra stars as Mary Kom in the biopic on boxing champion. (HT PHOTO)

MC Mary Kom is India’s only woman boxer to have won an Olympic bronze medal. Mary Kom is a biopic on her, with actress Priyanka Chopra playing the lead role. The movie embodies the theme of women empowerment by showing how Mary Kom paved her way to the Olympic stage in a society where women are not given freedom to chase their dreams. Later her coach would end up becoming her husband and the couple has two kids. Despite the difficulty in raising her kids, Mary kom continues to practice boxing and eventually wins the bronze.


Naseeruddin Shah plays a coach in the film. (YouTube)

Iqbal is a sweet little story of a deaf and dumb village boy who harbours dreams of playing cricket for India. Actor Shreyas Talpade has played Iqbal. His father curbs his desire to play cricket and forces him to work in the fields to help the family earn a living. The boy, though, is dedicated and finds time to practice bowling all by himself. Later, he comes to know that Naseeruddin Shah, who plays a cricket coach, could be of help to him. Though Shah is an alcoholic, he goes on to coach Iqbal. Eventually the boy represents India.

Paan Singh Tomar

Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar. (YouTube)

The movie is based on an athlete turned dacoit. Paan Singh Tomar was an Indian long distance runner who was a national champion. Actor Irrfan Khan is plays the armyman-athlete Tomar. A humble background and insincere relatives trouble Tomar’s personal life. His ancestral land in the village is seized by his relatives and the local police deny any help. Then, Tomar ends up killing one of his relatives and injures a policeman. There is no looking back from there and Tomar goes on to become a notorious dacoit.

Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal

John Abraham and Arshad Warsi in the film. (YouTube)

John Abraham is a professional footballer based in London. An Indian origin forward, his local English colleagues are jealous of his abilities and often start altercations with racial overtones. On the other hand, Southhall’s local football club has players who are hoteliers, bus conductors and businessmen. They play together in the league and are vying to get Southhall’s local football ground on lease. Because they don’t have a good player, their campaign usually falls short and the side is mocked by the locals.Initially he faces some problems with co-ordination but soon he builds a cohesive team. The film ends in a dramatic fashion with Abraham scoring the final goal despite suffering a concussion on the field.

Patiala House

Akshay Kumar in a still from the film. (YouTube)

Rishi Kapoor, head of the Kahlon family, is a mayor who remembers his early days of struggle in England after immigration from India.

The family had migrated from Patiala and suffered racial abuse. His son Akshay Kumar, excelled at junior cricket till he is grounded on his father’s instructions who does not want his child to face the kind of racial abuse that led to the death of his own brother.

Kapoor feels that the country which killed his elder brother wouldn’t have his son serving in its side.

However, on the insistence of his girlfriend, Kumar takes to playing cricket again, albeit clandestinely. He even changes his initials to keep his identity hidden from his father. But in the end his father finds out that he represented the senior English side and then turns into one of his best supporters.

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