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February 24, 2009

Samir Chopra

Slumdog Millionaire and Cricket

Samir Chopra

This is the day after the Oscars so it's only natural that I would write about Slumdog Millionaire. My central critique of the movie has already been made, much more eloquently than I ever could, by Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph. I have, however, as a fan of cricket and the Indian fan, another complaint about the movie, which centers on roughly the same complaint that Kesavan made: the movie does not make the suspension of disbelief easy.

For a crucial question in the movie, the one which catapults Jamal into the realm of the big bucks involves a question about cricket. Right off the bat (pun intended), this is a mistake. Why would a question about cricket, and cricket statistics at that, be placed in such a crucial moneyed category of the quiz? Especially when that quiz is taking place in India, home to obsessive statisticians and numerologists, trained for years by the brutal alphabet soup of school exams like the ICSE, CBSE, NTSE, ISC, IIT-JEE, AFMC, and all of the rest, to be the world's best crammers and memorizers?

But that's not the worst part. The true indicator that the film-makers thought so poorly of Indian fans and their cricketing knowledge is that the question asked is (no, not how many centuries Don Bradman made - that's printed on each Indian child's janampatri), wait for it, "Who made the most centuries in first-class cricket?" I was watching this movie at a large suburban movieplex, and I'm afraid my loud guffaws and chortles at this point might have made me a bit unpopular. It certainly earned me a dig in the ribs from my wife.

Oh, sure, I'll acknowledge the film-makers were clever enough to make this question one that Jamal struggles with. See, they seem to be saying, this is one question that every Indian would know, and that precisely is the question that our Slumdog seems to be ignorant about. Doesn't this show his disconnection from the mainstream? Yes, but what the heck is it doing as the 10-lakh rupee question? In the pantheon of cricket statistics questions, this one is not even a minor deity. Rather than the police torturing Jamal, they should have hauled the show's question-devisers off to the brig for a well-deserved thrashing.

However, Slumdog has done well with regards to cricket in another regard. It dutifully includes a scene in which cricket is being shown on the television, as a vital encounter between the movie's central protagonists takes place. And that little bit of cricket captures a painful moment for Indian fans. Not as painful as say, losing to Pakistan in the 1999 Chennai Test, but reasonably heart-ache inducing. The frustration it induces in Javed the Ganglord is palpable and quite likely to evoke sympathetic reactions in those viewers who watched the incident in question.

So, perhaps Slumdog's best contribution to the role of cricket in future editions of Kaun Banega Crorepati (er, sorry, Who Wants to be a Millionaire) will be two questions.

Question 1: In the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which ridiculously easy question about cricket was masqueraded as a challenging one?

a) Who made the most centuries in Test cricket b) Which cricketer was nicknamed "The Don" c) Which country did Donald Bradman play for d) Who made the most centuries in first-class cricket

Question 2: In Slumdog Millionaire which cricketing incident serves to induce a fit in the gangster Javed?

a) Tendulkar being run out for 99 b) Steve Bucknor giving Tendulkar out LBW c) Mark Benson giving Ganguly out in the Sydney test d) Andrew Symonds speaking

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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