Personal Success Amidst Collective Failure

May 26, 2017 at 9:15 PMMay (Cinema, Media, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Adding nothing more to what we already know about Sachin, relying only on moments of thrills, from archival footage, with its straight-forward narrative of a life, James Erskine’s film Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in wanting to celebrate the legend makes us realize that Sachin, though a man who gave us many thrills, is just not worthy a story to be told, though certainly a series of statistics worth being documented.

During the interval of the film, I called a friend, unable to resist telling him that the film is like any 80s-90s decent Mumbai cinema focusing on an individual who respects elders, values family, finds his love, has a dream (World Cup here) which is personal and wants to achieve it for the country and works hard for the same day in and day out, with the support of a loving teacher (who says “if you save the kit the kit will save you” in the lines of ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitaha’), a sacrificing wife, a loving family and an unquestioning blind mass support, where every other person is just an ornament to highlight the magnitude of the individual in focus. Knowing the trajectory of the life, and hence the film, I knew in the second half of the film, like in any decent Mumbai cinema, the dream will be achieved with some minor struggles.

Video footage from family archives of Sachin Tendulkar spending time with his parents, siblings and his wife and children are few moments where we get to see what we haven’t earlier. Of course there is a moment when speaking of the match-fixing Sachin says, “I was asked why I am not speaking. How could I speak of something which I did not know of completely?” which answers his silence from those days but fails to satisfy. Other than these all we get to see and hear is what has already been spoken and seen of the man who became God to many in this country.

The days around the match-fixing controversy, Sachin says in the film, was the darkest phase of Indian cricket and the people had to be won back again. Immediately the film cuts to the India-Australia test series where A Sourav Ganguly lead Indian team with a historic Laxman-Dravid partnership made the impossible possible. This, Sachin says, made the country finally put behind all the bitterness of the past few years.

A similar “dark phase” reoccurs when India has to return to India from the World Cup very early because of the poor performance. “I contemplated retirement then,” says Sachin and adds, after recollecting Viv Richards calling him and asking him to stick on, that his brother reminding him of the next World Cup being played in India with final to happen in Mumbai made him look forward to 2011 World Cup.

What is to be noticed is that what brought Indian cricket team out of the “dark phase” was, in the first instance, a team led by Ganguly, and in the second instance, a team led by Dhoni, of which Sachin was a part. Even in the film which is designed to celebrate the legend, there are no hints of Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run scoring cricketer, having saved the Indian team’s face or dignity.

Even when speaking of his long career there are no references made to how Sachin Tendulkar made the Indian team succeed though it rightly says that for innumerable Indians hope sank when Sachin got out.

So, what makes Sachin Tendulkar a legend who, in the words of Virat Kohli, “carried the Indian team for 22 years” and for whom team India pledged to win the Word Cup in 2011?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

When Sachin claims to be “playing for country” and when the country declares that winning the world cup was for Sachin, how is one to understand the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar and make sense of the seemingly opposing views?

The film gives no hints, no insights.

The film hints at the poor performance of the team while Sachin was the only hope. The film hints at how the nation was starving for some good and banked its hope on cricket ad Sachin. Is Sachin Tendulkar a story of a personal success amidst collective failure? The film leaves us with this question, without intending to.

Similarly in the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams the cricketer Sachin manages to win even when the film fails.

While watching the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams I was constantly reminded of two documentaries Steven Riley’s Fire in Babylon (for cricket) and Nasreen Munni Kabir’s two part documentary on Shahrukh Khan (for humble background to legend story with similar family touch).

Fire in Babylon tells the story of West Indies cricket team observing the phenomenon not just as a triumph of the underdogs but also as a story of a team making their game an anti-colonial statement. The humiliation faced by the West Indies team and their grit to beat the master in the masters’ game is no less of a thriller. But the story of Sachin is not a story of neither an underdog nor a battle against a force which is larger than human, though, I stress again, its a series of statistics worth documenting.

Nasreen Munni Kabir’s documentaries The Inner World of Shahrukh Khan and The Outer World of Shahrukh Khan explores the human side of Shahrukh Khan who, like Sachin is attached to family, focuses on work etc. But what makes the two part documentary beautiful is that it makes Shahrukh come across as a human with all his vulnerabilities, his anxieties, his playfulness etc. Though the film on Sachin speaks of the playfulness of Sachin during his childhood, speaks of his health issues, fails to make the same impact as Nasreen Munni Kabir’s film does precisely because while Kabir’s attempt is to understand and explore the phenomenon called Shahrukh Khan, the film by James Erskine’s purpose is only to put Sachin on a pedestal and sing glory of the man, which makes the film a flat two dimensional narrative, giving no fresh insight to Sachin the man or Sachin the cricketer.

Why are India-Pakistan matches given an extra emphasis in the film? Why does the tension between Azhar and Sachin get underlined with a negative sounding BGM? why does Bora Majumdar makes reference to the insurgency in Kashmir saying “it was brave of a 16 year old boy to go to Pakistan then” while he was going to play cricket to face Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and not to the border to serve the army? They might be coincidental if we are to ignore the long portions of Sachin performing pooja, comparing cricket to temple going, embodying the values of an ideal son, husband and a citizen. All put together we see, let me say though I will be accused of stretching this argument too far, a portrayal of an aadarsh baalak which India fancies, for what it values are and what it doesn’t value. Also given the unquestioned acceptance of commercialization and justification of it saying, “Yes, money is important,” after saying “What mattered the most was country,” the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams is like a Sooraj Barjatya, JP Dutta, Karan Johar and Yash Raj films from the 90s, the era in which Sachin emerged.

The film has nothing to offer to cinema lovers or cricket lovers or even Sachin lovers, except for some nostalgia and moments of reliving thrills, which Sachin, we need to acknowledge, gave this country in abundance.

Impressive statistics doesn’t necessarily make an impressive story and inspiring statistics doesn’t necessarily make an inspiring story.

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