Pitch report: A history of cricket in Bollywood leads up to Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev in '83
Ranveer Singh will roll his arm over and play the ‘Nataraj shot’ on the big screen soon.
The dashing young star will be seen as Kapil Dev in ’83, a biopic directed by Kabir Khan on the former cricket skipper who led the Indian team to a World Cup triumph in 1983.
The Kapil biopic is the latest film to showcase the much-adored form of sport.
The idea of making biopics has motivated a few makers in recent years. Azhar (2016) helmed by Tony D’Souza was inspired by the life and times of former captain Mohammad Azharuddin.
Azhar tanked, but Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic starring Sushant Singh Rajput, was a sleeper hit.
James Erskine made a docudrama-biographical film on Sachin Tendulkar called Sachin: A Billion Dreams (2017) starring the Master Blaster himself, which the legend’s fans enjoyed thoroughly.
Fiction and cricket have come together in many Bollywood films. Among them is Subodh Mukherjee’s Love Marriage (1959), which starred Dev Anand as a star cricketer.
His character has differences with the landlord’s daughter (Mala Sinha), who falls in love with him after watching him in a match. Not surprising, since the hero was Dev Anand.
Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan (2001) is the most popular film to have featured the game. The story merges patriotism and cricket and, ultimately, good guys (naive villagers) triumph over bad guys (British colonisers).
Starring Aamir Khan, Lagaan became the third Indian film to get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal (2005) is the story of a deaf and mute youngster (Shreyas Talpade) who is guided by his alcoholic coach (Naseeruddin Shah).
Eventually, the determined young man gets an opportunity to represent Team India. The outcome of fine direction and acting, the film was praised by everybody who mattered.
Awwal Number (1990) directed by Dev Anand deserved to bomb as it did. In the film, Anand is a top cop who is also the chairman of selectors.
Aamir Khan plays a promising cricketer, and the story even has a terrorist plot that makes the proceedings appear inadvertently comical.
Several other films with cricket as part of the plot have hit the marquee. Milan Luthria’s Hattrick (2007) has three parallel sub-plots, and among the characters are a former star player (Danny Denzongpa) and a young fan (Kunal Kapoor).
Kunal Deshmukh’s Jannat (2008) explores the world of betting with Emraan Hashmi playing the role of a fixer.
Mandira Bedi is a cricket-besotted teacher in Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Meerabai Not Out (2008).
Karanjeet Saluja’s Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii (2007) is about what happens after a teenager (Zain Khan) ends up with an old bat he believes is the one Kapil Dev used to score 175 (not out) against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup.
Rani Mukherjee is a dancer in a nautanki who plays cricket disguised as a man in Dil Bole Hadippa (2009).
What then attracts filmmakers to cricket? Actor-director Ananth Mahadevan says, “It is the game’s popularity. I think many more films on cricket should have been made in India.” However, Mahadevan believes that the industry has been guilty of making too many substandard films.
“Makers opt for the subject because of its popularity and make superficial films, hoping they would work. I think Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal, which looked at the theme philosophically, is an exception.”
Trade analyst Komal Nahta agrees with Mahadevan that cricket-themed films get made because “the game is a religion and makers are aware of it.” Several such films have capsized at the box-office, which doesn’t surprise him at all.
“A cricket film is just like any other kind of film. And, all kinds of films fail,” he reasons.
Cricket has countless devotees, which is why most Bollywood sports films have a link with it.
Not many such films have been commercially successful, but that doesn’t dissuade those who wish to make them.
Is that foolhardy? It is not, if one keeps in mind that the film industry is driven by a monosyllabic word. Hope.
’83 is set to hit theatres on April 10, 2020.