Thwack! What finer music is there for an Englishman or an Indian than the summer sun-blessed sound of a leather ball being lofted for six by a willowy batsman with his bat of willow? It seems inconceivable then that with the two great cultural monoliths of India being cricket and Bollywood that some intrepid producers would not have tried to combine the two in order to protect both the leg and offside boundaries for their financial investors, so to speak. And indeed, this has been more than once the case – but how successful have they been? Let’s look at a full Bollywood innings of movies and see if our superstars of the silver screen, all padded up and full of net practice can beat the magic figure of 323 and claim victory for the Old Thespians against the Cruel Critics.
First up to the crease is the long-awaited John Abraham starrer Hook Ya Crook with the all-star cast of Kay Kay Menon, Shreyas Talpade and Genelia D’Souza. Promised as a light-hearted comedy, the movie is directed by David Dhawan and written by Rang De Basanti’s Rensil D’Silva – so a fairly strong opening all round. The film also features international cricketer Mohendra Singh Dhoni. So what’s the film all about? “It’s about this guy Vijay Pradhan, (that’s me) who lands up in jail,” says John, “All the prisoners love cricket, so he forms a cricket team and the story is how two gangs there get even with each other over cricket.”
Unfortunately, John broke his foot whilst filming so he won’t be running between the wickets much over the next few months! Not releasing until December, Hook Ya Crook should provide a little bit of summer sun as winter descends upon us – and with John Abraham’s star riding high at the moment, it might be expected to take about 50 crores at the box office, giving us an opening score of 50 for 1.
Trying to defend the second wicket, we have the recently released IPL-parody Kirkit which also features Jackie Shroff, Sayali Bhagat, once again showing her ability to waste her potential on throwaway movies such as this and a bunch of young kids whose names I can’t and don’t want to remember. “I like challenges,” Sayali said during an interview with Bollywood Spice – so that probably explains her involvement. Some might argue that it’s very brave to parody something that’s genuinely popular and successful such as Twenty20 cricket – but others might just call it daft and misguided. Anyway, the film is about two gangs of boys – one from Mumbai and the other from Hyderabad – who meet in Goa on holiday, they fall out, have a fight and then decide to settle their differences with a game of cricket where they are spotted by a marketing executive and…oh I can’t be bothered. Unfortunately, the wicket falls quite quickly and we are 54-2.
The third batsman to defend his wicket is serial kisser Emraan Hashmi in the much more substantial Jannat: In Search of Heaven. Very, very loosely based on the mystery surrounding the death of Pakistan cricket coach and former England captain Bob Woolmer and the 2007 World Cup, the film is a masala of romantic interest, mafia links, match-fixing and gambling. The delightful Sonal Chauhan adds to the mix most charmingly and it’s a complete mystery that she hasn’t taken the opportunity to develop her career further. How did Emraan feel about playing such a complex character in the movie? “Generally in Hindi films we take it for granted that a hero should be all white, while the villain is portrayed as a black character,” he says, “In this film I play a grey character that people can relate to. After all none of us is all white or black, but grey.” So true, Emraan, so true. Altogether, a very substantial movie pushing us on to 88-3.
Harman Baweja, the Hrithik wannabe, very much hoped that his second movie after his disastrous debut in Love Story 2050 would lead him to an eponymous Victory. However, despite the sterling efforts of Amrita Rao, a plethora of international cricketers and filming in India, Pakistan and Australia, the rather simplistic story of a young cricketer hoping to make the Indian national team never really takes off. “Victory is a story that could speak of every cricketer who hails from a small town and goes on to be a part of the Indian cricket team. The film talks about any aspiring cricketer who rises to the top,” explained Amrita succinctly and moving on rapidly to her next production. A bit of a disaster, caught at square leg, this one only pushes us on to 95-4.
Say Salaam India is a little gem of a cricketing movie about how a schoolteacher forges a cricket team from a bunch of gully-gully enthusiasts among a school’s wrestling team and I’m stumped as to why it didn’t make a bigger showing at the box office. Subhash Kapoor’s only directorial venture so far, he also wrote the script, and developed a believable story around the traditional idea of the underdogs overcoming adversity and winning the cup. Star Sanjay Suri says, “The boys in the movie are newcomers and they have done a fantastic job. It’s such an original film that one can relate to the characters in the movie. At the same time it is entertaining and says a lot of things.” This enchanting middle-order batsman raises the score to 135-5.
An unusual cricket movie takes guard for the sixth wicket – it’s Hattrick, an endearingly funny movie about three people who – shuddering horrors – don’t like cricket. The first is Nana Patekar, the second Paresh Rawal and the third Rimi Sen. Rimi hates the fact that her husband spends all his time on the game, neglecting her whilst Paresh Rawal is a UK immigrant who has problems when his daughter starts dating a British African called Silver. Rimi, however, soon falls in love with the game when she spots Mohendra Singh Dhoni on the television – and from then on it’s ‘Dhoni this and Dhoni that’ driving her husband barmy. “I love doing comedy films and I’m very comfortable doing them,” said Rimi, who steals the movie with her unexpected comic timing, “I have learnt a lot from Hangama, my first comedy film and Priyadarshan, who is the comedy king.” This entertaining and unpretentious movie scores more than one boundary and pushes us on to 166-6.
Meerabhai Not Out with the excellent former TV sports anchor Mandira Bedi should in so many ways have been much better than it was – but this film, essentially a love story involving a woman who is a cricket fanatic, has a rushed feel to it and fails to ignite any passion or tension. It’s the editing that’s at fault with some parts of the movie lasting longer than a Sunny Gavaskar innings. “We made it really quick to coincide its release with the World Cup tournament but we all know what happened (India was out of the tournament in the early stages),” says Mandira, “So we decided to wait for people to start liking cricket again and then release it.” However, the rescheduling didn’t really work. Giving the feel of a lower-order batsman lobbing the ball to mid-on for an easy catch, it only allows us to push the score up to 181-7.
Our innings has begun to suffer from a mid-order collapse. What we really need now is someone to step forward and be a hero. But who could that possibly be? Step forward a certain Mr Aamir Khan with bat in hand. Aamir’s first venture into cricket was the Dev Anand produced Awwal Number in which Aamir stars as Sunny, an up-and-coming youngster who is chosen for the vital third and final one-day international against Australia in place of Ronny, the nasty egotistical superstar playboy whose career has been flagging just recently. Ronny decides to seek his revenge by teeming up with some terrorists to blow up the cricket stadium with 50,000 people inside on the day of the game. The terrorists, by the way, have the most beautiful and glamorous leader in Neeta Puri that any terrorist group has ever been lucky enough to have. Luckily, Dev as the Chairman of Selectors saves the day giving Sunny the chance to win the game for India! Jai Ho! A cracking little masterpiece, this edges us up to 208-8.
But wait, Aamir hasn’t finished yet! He’s also going to help us to defend that vital ninth wicket. It’s rumoured that after his work on 3 Idiots, Aamir is going to make another cricket movie. It will be called Ferrari Ki Sawari and it’s a story about how a boy chasing a Ferrari one day leads to him fulfilling his dream of playing at Lords. It’s said that Aamir liked the script so much that he immediately signed up for the movie. Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a source says,”When they approached Aamir with the proposal, he seemed pretty upbeat about it. Once he is done with 3 Idiots, his work for Ferrari Ki Sawaari will begin.” It’s early days yet, but it looks like this unexpected shot between the slips and the gulley has edged us up to 224-9
But we’re still in deep trouble – we still need a century to win the game. How can we possibly achieve that? Step forward Aamir once more. This time with probably the greatest movie ever made by Bollywood – so great, it even features on the BBC’s greatest ever movie list of all time. We are of course talking about – and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? – we are of course talking about Lagaan. An absolutely stunning 4-hour epic that flies by as though it were 40 minutes. The movie encapsulates the very essence of the underdog winning against all the odds as all great sports movies, and indeed all-great sports events must always do. Because what this theme provides is hope. The hope that despite everything that life throws at you, however deeply you are ground down by the arbitrariness of the universe, the jackboot of tyranny and bureaucracy or by the simple unkindness of your fellow man, that there is still underlying everything a universal justice that will see goodness and right prevail and the human spirit triumph in the end.
Do I need to tell you the story? It’s set at the height of the British Raj in the small village of Champaner. The local British commander, Captain Russell, decides to set a high tax for the year. The villagers protest because there is drought and they are already as extended as they can be. Convinced he can humiliate the villagers further, the commander offers a wager – if the villagers can beat his soldiers at cricket, he will cancel the tax for three years. If they lose, he will triple the tax. Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) accepts the wager. The commander’s sister – angry at her brother’s callous attitude – tries to help the villagers by teaching them the rudiments of the game. This leads to a romantic triangle also involving Gauri (Gracy Singh) a pretty village girl. There is also treachery when one of the village team decides to ingratiate himself with the English by reporting on Elizabeth’s help. Other themes are explored – such as the anger in the village when Bhuvan invites an untouchable to join the team.
The second half of the movie focuses on the game and never has a game of cricket been more beautifully shot than in Lagaan. The English soon race to 300-3 and it looks like it’s all over but a mid-order collapse is engineered by the untouchable Kachra who takes a hat-trick. The English finish on 323. Then the Indians bat. Bhuvan, as opening batsman, holds steady, but after a promising opening partnership with the Sikh Deva, the innings begins to collapse. By close of play, five wickets have gone and the Indians have less than half the runs they need with only the long tail end to come. Things are looking bleak. At the start of the second day, Bhuvan scores his century but the remaining wickets continue to tumble until eventually there’s only Kachra left. Barely able to hold a bat, he does manage to squeeze a single but we are now at the very last ball of the game and a six is needed to win. Things are looking pretty grim. The ball is bowled but whilst a strong shot is played, it is not a six – the English have won. But no, wait, they haven’t – the umpire, to the fury of the English, declares a no-ball. It must be bowled again! The last ball is bowled once more, Bhuvan hits it far and wide — a tremendous shot – but Captain Russell has it covered. It descends from the sky in line with the sun. The Captain waits patiently and the ball is magnificently caught – the English have won. But no, wait, they haven’t – for the captain’s foot was over the boundary! The score is a six and the Indians have won as their total now reaches 324. As does ours – for Lagaan is certainly worth a century or more! Our Old Thespians win the day! Howzat!
The reception for Lagaan worldwide has been astonishing, cheered by crowds in countries where the rules of cricket are as opaque as the Marianna Trench. It has won too many awards and plaudits to be worth listing and each one is a tribute to the genius of Aamir Khan – the man who turned the history of cricket into a Bollywood myth that will last forever.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this innings of Bollywood cricket. Perhaps you have a favourite cricket film that’s not here – Iqbal perhaps where Shreyas Talpade gives a stunning performance as a deaf-mute boy who becomes a fast bowler in the Indian team or Salman Khan’s marriage proposal on the cricket field in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi? Take it in good heart, however, for my list above is not intended to be exhaustive and I may have dropped a catch or two – but that’s all the better, for it means I may return soon with a second innings- just for you!