Cover Story/Sports Biopics: Sporty Connect through Cinema
“He said instead of pouring milk over Shivalinga save “20 & fill stomach of poors. Boycotting Dangal can save “300 so y not? #LetsBoycottDangal, said one of the tweets. And if you are on social media, this was not an exception. Still, Dangal, the Aamir Khan starrer & produced movie has earned “176.9 crore in Bharat and will soon cross “100-crore mark internationally. What is the secret of this contradictory success? Perhaps, there is a new and encouraging trend in the Hindi film industry of biopics based on sports personalities. Their humble roots, invigorating struggle and unprecedented success in respective sports provide inspiration to millions in Bharat. If all this is interwoven with a masala and solid foundation of ‘nationalistic’ approach, then it connects with the masses. The trend set by Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is nothing but a reflection of changing times and transforming Bharat, which people like Aamir Khan needs to understand
The biggest of the battles in the life is fought in the battlefield of mind. And, in sports the mental game is half the of any victory. One can train all they want, and run through all single play, but one still won’t come out with a win, if the
individual or the team are not mentally prepared. There comes a time in nation’s growth, when its population aspires to leap frog to the next level. And its time like these that sports and sportspersons inspire, motivate and energise the entire populance. For, sporting legends rise from humble origin to scale the summit. Their scripts are based on the narrative with sweat, grit, determination, sacrifice and struggle as its intrinsic core. Like in the stiffest tests in life, fraction of seconds differentiates the victor from the vanquished. And most importantly, the vanquished bounce back and emerges as the champion next time. In India, time has come. And, this explains the yearning of the nation- whose 65% of the population comprise of those below the age of 35 years, latching on to the bollywood biopics based on the narrative of sports. From ‘Chak de! India’ to ‘Dangal’ this strong undercurrent is discernable.
Releasing Year: 2016
The film stars Aamir Khan portraying the role of Mahavir Singh Phogat, who taught wrestling to his daughters Babita Kumari and Geeta Phogat. Geeta was India’s first female wrestler to win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games where she won gold medal while her sister Babita won the silver.
Releasing Year: 2014
The film depicts the journey of a boxer ‘Mary kom’ to her victory at the 2008 World Boxing Championships in Ningbo. Priyanka chopra played the role of the eponymous boxer.
Box Office: Approx 90 cr
Releasing Year: 2016
The film is based on the life of Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh dhoni. The film features Sushant Singh Rajput in the leading role.
Box Office: Approx 225 cr
Releasing Year: 2010
The film stars Irfaan Khan playing the character of
Releasing Year: 2013
The film sketches the life of Milkha Singh, who was a national runner and an Olympian. Farhan Akhtar enacts the role of Milkha Singh in the movie.
The year was 2007. The venue was ‘Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, in South Africa. The giant screen read, “India is the inagural T20 World Cup Champion’. This was unimaginable even 10 days back. For team India were reluctant participants in the tournament. Three of the greatest icons of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly had skipped the tournament. And the team was led by what the traditional cricketing brains considered a rank rookie from the remotest possible traditionally non-cricketing center called Ranchi. The nucleus from the team followed this unexpected trend. Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh, Kothamangalam in Kerala and Kodagu in Karnataka were definitely not in the traditional
cricketing map of the country. But heroes emerging from these towns did the unthinkable. The resonance of this win could be felt an year after, when the Indian Premier League was born. The initial unique selling point of the league was reel life heroes owning the teams comprising of the real life heroes.”
At any point of time, Sachin Tendulkar is very popular than Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But there is no biopic made out of Sachin but it has been made out of the life of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It is definitely commercial. Talking about Mary Kom, we funnily say, “Mary kum, Priyanka zyada”. Basically, biopic anywhere in the world generally made for the legend. Dhoni is not a legend, he may be a very popular cricket player. I would say it is purely business. There are many vested interest in this field. Most of these people are market brands. Suppose if one’s market is 200 cr, after the film, no matter how much the film earned, the market would go up 350 cr or more. In India, if somebody wants to make biopic on a cricketer, it should be Sachin Tendulkar or Sunil Gavaskar, not Azharuddin or Dhoni. I am not very optimistic about this trend. Milkha Singh could be a right choice for a biopic. Biopic as a genre in India is immature to me; it is not yet up to the mark. To me it is more about commercial. The biopics like Nelson Mandela, are true to the life. They (the western film makers) don’t make a person a God. They treat a sportsman as sportsman; they don’t make him a God.
One of the biggest bollywood stars of the time owning a much fancied team told me in one of the interviews, “We are reel life heroes. They are the real life heroes. In their case, live real time action speaks. They don’t have any chance of retake. Theirs is the story of the truimph, in both, victory and defeat and in sporting arena and actual battle-field of life. We try to capture these sensibilities and encapsulate these emotions in our acting skills canvas. For our kids, the sweat and their blood, their sacrifice and their dedication, will be a more genuine iconic stuff. We as an actor will be mere extrapolation of this”. From then till date, Chak de! India, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Pan Singh Tomar, Mary Kom, M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story and now Dangal, the list of the real sporting icons captured in the reel of bollywood, is getting longer. More of the same are there in the pipeline, the most awaited ones being—‘Sachin—a billion dreams’. What is that which is making sports based films like ‘Dangal’ a roaring success in the box-office? What is that which makes Aamir Khan, who was trolled by the twitterati for his totally unwanted and uncalled for comments on intolerance, latched on by the cinemagoers when he takes sports as the theme?
Firstly, as journalist Naushad Ali puts it forth, “The people could relate themselves to the theme. They are witness to the actual stories of Mary Kom, MS Dhoni and Phogat sisters. And the fact that they fought adversities to emerge trimphant in life inspires them. There was a point of time in Mary Kom’s life, when she had thought of taking her life. If not selected for the Zimbabwe tour with India A team, Dhoni would have been an ordinary ticket collector in one of the railway stations of eastern India. If Phogat sisters father would have followed a conventional trend in his village and not challenged the societal norms, they would have been relegated to the background doing hackneyed social chores. Parents loves to take their kids to movie halls to get inspired by the real life stories.” Secondly, the sports based movies trend may be the emerging one in our country, but it is part of the larger global trend. Sports after all don’t exist in isolation, it’s the reflection of the society we live in. In the words of avid hollywood film watcher Rajesh Jha, Invictus (2009) starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon highlighted South African Rugby team’s efforts in clinching the 1995 World Cup in the post apartheid era. Ali (2001) starring Will Smith on the life of Mohammad Ali, Moneyball (2011) starring Brad Pitt on the life of Billy Beane and Rush (2013) capturing the rivalry of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, too carried a strong thematic contemporary message. All the films including Dangal, carries the present societal message, which our aspirational populations are latching on to leapfrog to the another level. They give them the hope that the existing trends and handicaps could be erased to re-write the success stories script”.
Reflection of Changing Times
On some level I think this is also a reflection of our times – people have never been more accessible to us thanks to modern media, social media and of course even people becoming more open about their lives, struggles and not just their achievements. Failure and triumph and especially triumph after failure make for inspiring stories. Sporting heroes and heroines are great examples of this. Also in our country their
Thirdly, sports based films gives subtle man management and team building lessons. They emphasise on the fact that pro-active approach and not a reactive approach pays dividend in life. Most importantly, they come up with the critical attributes in the decision making process—like
maintaining cool till the end and focus on the process and not the end result alone. Most importantly sports based stories always exhudes positivity. As sports psychologist Dr Saranjeet Singh aptly put this forth, “Sports stories teaches us the most invaluable lessons in life that loosing necessarily is not always bad. Infact, it’s can turn out to be a stepping stone to emerge as victor in future”.
‘Every person who is successful, his story needs to be told’
And lastly, science fiction based films and sports based film stories has been an inseparable trend world wide. As Dr Saranjeet Singh says, “Science fiction triggers our imagination to think beyond what is existing to the world full of possibilities and unknown. Human civilisation has trudged a long and arduous journey from the stone age to the information age. And these science based fictions push us to crave for more. From here, we do fancy our chances of owning mobile phones without any battery, a pilotless car in which we can sit at the back and concentrate on our lap top, a vehicle which can run on the road and fly in the sky at the same time to beat the city traffic, toilets which could wash itself without wasting water and foods which could be genetically edited. The limit is unlimited”. If the science fiction based stories comprise of the hardware, the sports based films forms the software. They touch our emotional chord and empowers even the most disadvantaged to add wings to their desires. As the emerging trend from ‘Chak de! India’ to ‘Dangal’ shows, the latter trend has arrived in the young nation with the ancient roots. The former trend will arrive too, as and when our society gains in confidence of its former self and makes scientific temper the core of its philosophy, as was the case when it was the world leader. Between these two main thematic characters of science and sports based films in the actual dangal too, there is a broader lessons for Aamir Khan. The pulse of the nation and its people needs to be judged accurately.
(The writer is senior Sports Journalist)