Cast: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni
Director: James Erskine
Sachin Tendulkar — should the God of cricket, whose countless moments of glory continue to regale a majority of Indians — be immortalised on celluloid too? By all means, he must be. Quite understandably for a large chunk of India, living legend Sachin Tendulkar is more than the game itself, and his fans would do anything to keep his memory alive.
The game of cricket is religion to many of us, and life comes to a standstill in many parts of the country whenever the dynamic season of the game is on. The flip side to the story is that like everything else, public memory too is short-lived. And just the way there is unpredictability in every sphere of our lives, religious commitment also undergoes dramatic swings. And many a time, our loyalties shift unwaveringly. Hence, it was important that we documented this “little master” and his immense contribution to the Indian cricket team.
But does the film Sachin: A Billion Dreams gives us anything that we didn’t already know? To the innumerable fans spread across the world, there is nothing that the print media or the digital world hasn’t chronicled. Director James Erskine and his co-writer Sivakumar Ananth capture Sachin’s life as a cricketer and some moments of his childhood in substantial detail, while trying to unveil a few aspects of his personal life too. It is at the confluence between these worlds, where you realise that there has been a careful effort of production to try to transcend its inevitable limitations. Seeing our protagonist grow from a simple middle-class boy to a world-renowned figure creates a fine halo of interest that predisposes us to involve ourselves more than expected in a story already known, partly because details being mouthed by the subjects themselves.
Even then do not expect anything incisive, save, perhaps, at times it can arouse an emotional reaction in you. It is a biopic focused on singing praises of the cricket legend, but it does so in a more interesting way and doesn’t present them in a half-baked form as films on Azharuddin and MS Dhoni did. Erskine structures the film alternating current interviews with people close to the player, from childhood friends to current teammates, with images of his past, both recordings of the time and recreations. Thankfully, barring a few scenes where reconstruction of the past helps put together some important aspects of his life the film sticks to the genre of a documentary.
There are scenes where your heart will melt at a glimpse into Sachin’s humane side that is opposed to this ultra-disciplined ruthlessly-focused player for whom being a perfectionist meant above everything else. Also, as per his father’s command, he never allowed failure to forsake his ambition of being at the top. Along the way, we do get to discover Sachin as more than just a sportstar: he is a saviour, the anointed one who motivates his team all along, dreaming of realising his own goal.
In one important scene, we come to know that his wife, Anjali, an MD in pediatrics, had to forego her career as a doctor to take care of the family. In yet another scene, footage shows a young Vinod Kambli appearing briefly. There is also a pointed reference to two power centres being active on the cricket front — Azharuddin’s and Tendulkar’s. But these are more like fleeting mentions that definitely merited more screen time, specially Kambli. Rarely do we get to delve deeply into the mind of this world-class batsman whose style the greatest batsman of all time Sir Donald George “Don” Bradman found resembling his own the most.
The film is an effortful report that would be so much the same story that anyone who has ever been interested in cricket would already know. For such a film to firmly remain etched in our memory, it should have more: it is in the details where the thing would have gained substance.
I do acknowledge that Anjali comes across as the backbone of this 139-minute film, but she alone is too incomplete because of the narrative’s marked tendency not to go beyond the obvious and remain in the mere anecdote.
The docudrama doesn’t shed much light on unspoken facts, and so, what really churns amid magical chants of “Sachin… Sachin…” is something many viewers would not be able to measure. The factors analysed are: physical, physiological, psychological, skill and popularity. But with the exception of the last bit, none is dealt with even remotely.
Nevertheless, if you can get past the whole nationalist aspect of competitive cricket, you could relive all those glorious moments of joy and despair, besides getting an insight into the lengthy game sequences and his admission of using certain techniques, and enjoy this ride.
We have adored the greatest cricketer, been in awe of him and will always be. But now that yet another hero Virat Kohli has taken over from him and stands the tallest in another competitive era, our memory of Sachin as the holder of many records in ODI and Test cricket may begin to fade. Considering this documentary on one of the world’s most beloved stars will live for future generations, it’s too bad such an effort with only select celebrated flashes was the goal.
The writer is a film critic and has been reviewing films for over 15 years. He also writes on music, art and culture, and other human interest stories....