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Cricket in cinema and books

We take stock of the way cricket has been treated in books and movies in the Indian context, particularly the purveyors of Bollywood pulp.

brunch Updated: Sep 27, 2016 17:06 IST
Sushant Singh Rajput,MS Dhoni,Selection Day
Sushant Singh Rajput in the first poster of MS Dhoni, a biopic on cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

With Sushant Singh Rajput set to reprise Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the silver screen in his biopic that releases on September 30, it may be a good time to do a personalised highlights package of the way I have consumed cricket between covers and on celluloid.

How’s that? The depiction of the gentleman’s game goes from the sublime to the ludicrous. We take stock of the way cricket has been treated in books and movies in the Indian context, particularly the purveyors of Bollywood pulp.

Let us begin at the beginning, or rather the beginning of when I began consuming pop culture. One of the sound tracks that played a lot on the tape recorder of my father, a devotee of Dev Anand, was from the 1959 film Love Marriage. The lyrics went: She ne khela he se, aaj cricket match. Ek nazar mein dil bechara ho gaya LBW.

Much later, after the advent of YouTube, I realised the song featured a dandy Dev Anand dancing in cricket whites with a petulant Mala Sinha. The lead pair cavort around comically along with their respective teams and this was the most amusing introduction my impressionable mind could have expected to have to cricket terms such as the heart being given out leg before wicket.

The other enduring memory of Dev Saheb and the gentleman’s game featured Aamir Khan and Aditya Pancholi in Awwal Number (1993), a forgettable masala flick the debonair director made.

In this film, Dev Saheb took a few shots and I don’t mean Dilscoop, which are not quite from the MCC Coaching Manual. One, he plays two characters, one the commissioner of police (not the commissioner of IPL mind you) and gulp, the chairman of the cricket board. In good, old Bollywood, there have never been any conflicts of interest. In the climax, Dev Saheb ends up shooting his errant son (played by Pancholi) during a high-octane chopper sequence, believe it or not, from one helicopter to the other, right in his temple. Jeff Thompson would have been proud of this bouncer.

Perhaps, Aamir Khan, who played second fiddle in the film to Dev Saheb (he was the real star in all the movies he made, the captain of the ship), learnt how not to make a cricket film here.

Which brings us to the epic Lagaan, where he famously played Bhuvan, leading his ragtag army of villagers against the exploitative East India Company. The script was heart-warming, the music by AR Rahman melodious and the peripheral actors impressive. In the climax, the villagers win a match that helps them waive off the tax imposed on them. The underdog comes out on top. Who cares about details like whether the British would have actually allowed under-arm bowling?

Exploiting the underdog theme with a homo-erotic twist is Aravind Adiga’s new novel Selection Day. The two protagonists in his book call each other Tendulkar and Kambli. They even have a record-breaking partnership in the Harris Shield. Remember Kambli, the swashbuckling left-hander who began his international career in brilliant fashion, flattering cricket aficionados with his flair, only to disappoint in the long run. His career was over by the Southpaw reached his mid-20s.

In Mumbai’s cricket circles the buzz was that Kambli was more talented than Sachin ‘God’ Tendulkar, but couldn’t keep his head when glamour, fame and money came his way.

Apart from the main characters, the book also has thinly disguised characters cricket fans can easily identify, for instance: Tommy Sir based on Ramakant Achrekar who is obsessed with discovering the new Sachin Tendulkar.

Although the story has a surprise ending, the cricket bits are nicely researched and hold your interest. All in all, the reader emerges after reading Adiga’s novel with a feeling of having watched an entertaining Manmohan Desai film.

Can MS Dhoni: The Untold Story manage to avoid the pitfalls of forgettable cricket movies such Victory and Ferrari Ki Sawari? We’ll know on Friday.

From HT Brunch, September 25, 2016

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