Cricket seems to be returning to the minds of Bollywood filmmakers, with a few high-profile projects lined up for release next year.
In 2020, Ranveer Singh is set to play Kapil Dev in ‘83’, Kabir Khan’s film about India’s victory at the cricket World Cup of 1983. Shahid Kapoor, after ‘Kabir Singh’, seems to have struck gold with remakes of Telugu hits. His next, ‘Jersey’, is a Bollywood remake of Gowtham Tinnanuri’s Telugu film of the same name, and it narrates the story of a failed cricketer who decides to revive his career despite being in his late 30s. Then there is the biopic about Mithali Raj, the former captain of the Indian women’s national cricket team, which stars Taapsee Pannu in the lead. A film titled ‘God of Cricket’ was also announced on cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar’s birthday this year.
Sure, Bollywood has always been fascinated by cricket. In the past, we have had ‘Lagaan’, ‘Iqbal’, ‘Patiala House’, ‘Dil Bole Hadippa’, ‘Jannat’, ‘Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii’, ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’, ‘Azhar’ and ‘The Zoya Factor’ among others. In the 90s, too, there was the strange attempt to cash in on the sport with Aamir Khan starring as a cricketer in Dev Anand’s ‘Awwal Number’.
Still earlier, in the 80s, real-life cricketer Sandeep Patil (incidentally, among the heroes of the 1983 team that won the World Cup) starred as a cricketer in a film called ‘Kabhi Ajnabi The’ (1985). Also, Kumar Gaurav — a teenybopper star of the era — played a cricketer in ‘All Rounder’ (1984).
There is a difference between the upcoming stock of cricket movies and the older ones. In most cases, Bollywood films of the past that had cricket as a backdrop were only using the sport to unfold a formulaic story of romance, drama, melodrama, comedy and, at times, some action. Barring the odd ‘Iqbal’ or biopics of Dhoni and Azhar, these films were not so much about cricket or cricketers.
The upcoming films will also look for formulae in the stories of cricket and cricketers, but in keeping with contemporary Bollywood trends, aim to do so with a context that makes the game relevant to the plot.
That’s something that excites the audience these days. A quick scan of the welcome that the Mithali Raj biopic is seeing on social media ever since it was announced ells you as much.
“Can’t wait already”, “your biopic will be a must watch”, “another cricket biopic, already excited for it” are some of the comments left on Twitter earlier this month after Viacom18 Studio announced that Pannu will be bringing the story of Raj to the silver screen with ‘Shabaash Mithu’.
“It’s not just a biopic of a personality but a larger story on how Indian women cricket team rose to great heights and their battles against the odds. It’s also about the biases in our society, about the rising Indian women and their struggle,” Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom18 Studios, said.
Andhare was watching the Oscar nominated 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures’ when the idea for his film dawned.
“‘Hidden Figures’ tells the true story of African American women who helped the US win the space race. On reflection, it struck me that just like the African women’s exploits are not widely known, so are our women cricketers. And that when cricket is a religion in India. So I developed a story idea around this core and went about securing the life rights of Mithali Raj who both as captain and a feisty woman epitomises this irony,” he said.
“We then went about developing the screenplay and finally got it right after changing many a writer. After several iterations between me and our in-house team members, we developed the final screenplay. Taapsee Pannu was the first choice for the role and it’s great that we got her nod immediately after the narration to her. Rahul Dholakia loved the script, shares this dream and is on board as director,” added Andhare.
Khan’s ‘83’, on the other hand, will take the audience back to the time when Kapil Dev led the underdog Indian cricket team to a famous victory against the mighty West Indies in the final of the 1983 World Cup.
‘83’, which features Ranveer Singh, Tahir Raj Bhasin and Ammy Virk, among others, is co-produced by Reliance Entertainment, Phantom Films and Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.
“‘83’ is not just a film about cricket, it is about the human spirit and hope. Whether you are a cricket fan or not, the story will resonate with you. It is about men who won against all odds — a David versus Goliath story that will give everyone goose bumps,” Shibasish Sarkar, Group CEO, Reliance Entertainment, said.
“India won independence in 1947 but the ‘83 World Cup win is our independence in sports. For us, ‘83 is a story that needs to be told — a true story that placed India on the global cricketing map. The ‘83 World Cup was a game-changer as it rewrote India’s cricketing history. We just want to bring this incredible story to the audience,” Sarkar added.
If sources are to be believed, filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani has been approached with two films based on cricket. The first, a Fox Star film, aims at being a larger-than-life Lala Amarnath biopic that has been written by Piyush Gupta and Neeraj Singh. The second is a cricket story being written by Abhijat Joshi.
“Cricket is not just a game. In India, it’s a religion that unites people. The biting of the nails, the racing of the hearts — all of these are familiar to Indians who are the most passionate fans in the world of cricket. We aim at telling stories that resonate with the masses,” said Sarkar.
Trade expert Vinod Mirani feels that Hindi filmmakers are making movies around cricket or sports in general as India is on a winning spree.
“You can’t be telling stories of losers and expect them to run [at the box office],” he said.
Actors are also enjoying telling stories of sports personalities. Angad Bedi, who played a cricketer in this year’s film ‘The Zoya Factor’ and the web series ‘Inside Edge 2’, shared: “I like to play a sportsperson. Their lives are extremely close to the lives that we [actors] lead. They are full of ups and downs. One day you are a hero, the next day media and people put you down if you are not giving your best.”
So far he has played fictional characters, he wouldn’t mind featuring in a biopic. “I would love to do a biopic on a bowler like Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh. I would love to see their struggles on screen,” said Bedi.