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Following the release of Victory, a cricket-themed Bollywood film, we look at some notable movies that have had the game at their hearts
Judhajit Basu and Siddhartha Talya
February 5, 2009
Lagaan (Land tax) (2001)
A Sikh sepoy, a cripple, a chicken farmer, a potter, a blacksmith, a mute drummer, a woodcutter and a village doctor are among those who make up the eclectic mix of the Champaner XI that takes on the British army in a game of cricket. Set in 1893, the story revolves around the peasants from the barren village, led by the young, impetuous Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), who face the arduous task of learning the game and playing for a win against Captain Andrew Russell and his men - one that will free them from the burden of paying taxes for three years. The film's centerpiece is the match, a spectacle in itself. The officers, after electing to bat, throw away a strong start and are undone by the cripple, bowling his legbreaks. The spirited run-chase is capped by intense drama at the end. With five needed off the last ball and the last-wicket pair at the crease, Bhuvan swings extremely hard with a pull shot and the ball soars high off a top edge. Captain Russell backpedals at long-on and completes the catch, only to realise he's beyond the boundary of the playing area. The movie won a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
Wondrous Oblivion (2003)
Set in 1960s England, against a backdrop of racial tension and economic hardship, Wondrous Oblivion tracks the life of 11-year-old David Wiseman - a young Jew, the son of Holocaust survivors - who develops a passion for the "most English of English sports", amid his immigrant family's struggles to assimilate in an intolerant neighbourhood. However, his enthusiasm is not matched by a proportionate ability to play the game - till a Jamaican family, headed by Dennis Samuels (played by Delroy Lindo), moves in next door. As Dennis teaches his daughter to play cricket, David finds the perfect opportunity to pursue his passion. But the trials and tribulations of living in a hostile neighbourhood make life increasingly difficult for the Samuelses, and David is forced to choose between standing by his new mentor or giving in to society's prejudices. Paul Morrison's film serves more as a reflection of the struggles for inclusion in post-war England than as a glorification of cricket, but it is also a throwback to the days when the game was a part of daily life for most West Indians, unlike today.
Awwal Number (Number One) (1990)
This one has it all, with temperamental cricket players, an interfering bunch of selectors, threats of terrorist attacks, cricket teams with theme songs, and more. India have lost two games in their three-ODI series against Australia, after a dismal Test series, largely due to the disappointing performances of the arrogant captain, Ronny (Aditya Panscholi), who is also the brother of Vikram (Dev Anand), the president of the cricket board. The selection committee opts for a great new hope named Sunny (Aamir Khan) in Ronny's place. Meanwhile, the Temple Flower Organisation threatens to blow up the Wankhede Stadium, the venue for the third match. Ronny, who doesn't take too kindly to being dropped, goes on a bender and joins the terror outfit in their dastardly plan. The cliffhanger element isn't India chasing over 30 runs in the last couple of overs, but a helicopter chase when Ronny menaces the stadium with a detonator. Just for the record, Dev Anand initially wanted Imran Khan to play the role of Ronny.
The Final Test (1953)
In this, one of the more successful cricket-based films, Jack Warner plays Sam Palmer, a legend on the cusp of ending an illustrious career. However, his main concerns are not nerves, or the feeling of fulfillment one associates with a player walking out for his farewell Test, but the indifference of his son, who displays no interest in watching his father's last performance. The son, incidentally, is an avid poet who prefers an appointment with a famous playwright to Warner's penultimate outing. The Oval, the traditional venue for the last Test of a series in England, is the stage for the climax as Warner trudges out for his final appearance, longing for a glimpse of his son. Cameos by the likes of Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Godfrey Evans and Jim Laker contribute substantially to the film's appeal. (Click here for Cricinfo's review of The Final Test DVD.)
Set during the 1999 World Cup, this film is about the life of the wife of an army officer, Major Raghav Seth (Aly Khan), fighting in the Kargil War. While Reena (Raveena Tandon) pines for her husband's return, cricket is the only thing on the minds of a number of residents of her housing colony, Happy Home Complex. The colourful neighbours include a Mr Subramaniam, who apart from being the secretary of the colony, also heads an anti-cricket campaign, along with another resident, Laltoo Singh. The two contrive to teach the cricket fanatics a lesson by cutting the TV cable during the India-Sri Lanka match. Among the highlights is the visit to the colony by a man named Baba, who shows two characters, Girish and Deshpande, how their queries about India's chances of winning the World Cup, and the fate of the stock market, are insignificant compared to Major Seth and the war he is fighting. Events reach a climactic point when Reena receives news that her husband is missing in action, presumed dead, while her neighbours soak in the joy of India's win.
Arthur's Hallowed Ground (1984)
Consensus today supports the idea that pitches should be prepared in favour of the home team, but this story of a possessive curator - Arthur, played by Jimmy Jewel - puts the notion to serious test. Directed by then-octogenarian Freddie Young - the cinematographer on classics such as Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, the film looks at how Arthur has tended the same school cricket field for almost half-a-century - which imbues him with a sense of ownership - and takes justifiable pride in his efforts to create the perfect pitch. "When I'm out here in the middle, nothing else matters. People come to sit on the edge, just to drink it in," he says. However, the abysmal fortunes of the home team place Arthur at odds with his higher-ups; they expect him to prepare a track that suits the hosts, and to eventually retire, upon realising that the imperfections of human labour need to be replaced by the efficiency and reliability of modern technology.
Meerabai Not Out (2008)
Cricket in India took a beating with the terror attacks and the subsequent termination of the ODI series between India and England. As if that was not bad enough for this film, which released around the same time, Anil Kumble's sudden retirement proved another dampener. Meera (Mandira Bedi), a mathematics teacher, has been a happy single for quite a while. The great loves of her life have been, and will always remain, cricket and Kumble. What worries her family is that she is still single. Enter Arjun (Eijaz Khan). Meera realises that there's more to life than praying for the Indian team and Kumble. So, while her heart beats for Kumble, and India's fortunes, Meera does try her best to commit to her non-striker beau; but such is the pull of the game that she goes to the extreme of making her way to a stadium to watch a match on the day of her engagement. And yes, Kumble does make a series of short appearances in this film as the object of Meera's affection.
Playing Away (1987)
One of the lesser-known cricket films, Playing Away, a comedy, directed by Trinidadian-born Horace Ove, is yet another attempt to use the sport as a mirror to race relations in England, this time in the 1980s. The residents of a quintessential English county village invite a team of West Indian immigrants settled in Brixton to a cricket match, commemorating the village's "Third World Week". There are plenty of racial stereotypes on offer; while the visitors are portrayed as rash and crude, their hosts are excessively patronising, putting on a display of politeness and sportsmanship to hide their prejudices. The weekend witnesses a series of strange incidents, as cricket comically provides a stage for bizarre interactions among the two sets of participants.
Released a year after India's famous World Cup victory, this one was inspired by the rags-to-riches story of Eknath Solkar, whose father once tended the gardens at the Wankhede Stadium. The film was shot live at an India-Pakistan Test, among other locations, and features shots of Solkar playing, but it fell flat among the cricket-crazy masses. It's the story of two brothers, Ajay (Kumar Gaurav) and Birju (Vinod Mehra). Birju encourages his brother, who loves cricket, to become a professional. Ajay's rise to fame earns him enemies, notably Vikram (Shakti Kapoor), who with the help of a woman friend gets Ajay drunk and subsequently ousted from professional cricket. Ajay then gets into a heated argument with Birju and runs away from home. He finds no sympathy with his girlfriend Ritu (Rati Agnihotri) and her parents either, following which he turns into an alcoholic before struggling to redeem himself in the public eye.
This is the story of an 18-year-old deaf-mute, Iqbal (Shreyas Talpade), the son of a farmer, who lives in a small village in Andhra Pradesh. Financial straits and his father's dislike of the game prove impediments to Iqbal's ultimate goal, of playing for India, but his sister encourages him to pursue his dreams, and they together convince a local drunkard, who happens to be a former state-level cricketer, Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah), to coach him. Iqbal does get a berth in Andhra's Ranji team, but the path is far from rosy. Guruji (Girish Karnad), the trainer at a powerful academy, who has previously rejected Iqbal, proves to be an obstacle again, but the underdog does triumph in the end. Do not miss the opening scene, before the birth of Iqbal, where his mother watches the 1983 World Cup, as well as his training routine on the farm involving cows.
Bodyline (TV series, 1984)
This series, though not without its factual inaccuracies, does well to capture "cricket's darkest hour", bringing to life the animosity and acrimony that plagued MCC's tour of Australia in 1932-33. Targeted primarily at an Australian audience, Bodyline is predictably infused with a degree of jingoism - Douglas Jardine's (played by Hugo Weaving) representation as a scheming, heartless captain is an example. Some of the moments of the seminal tour make for compelling viewing, while others disappoint. Stan McCabe's 187 in the first Test in Sydney, and Don Bradman's nerve-wracking century in Melbourne while batting with last man Bert Ironmonger - the tension among fans at the ground and those tuning in on the radio is captured brilliantly - stand out as high points. However, contrary to reality, Bert Oldfield's fractured skull off a Harold Larwood delivery in the infamous Adelaide Test is shown to be a consequence of leg theory, when in fact it wasn't. In the end, the TV series ultimately serves as an entertainer based on true events than as a show striving for historical accuracy.
Judhajit Basu is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo, Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistantFeeds: Siddhartha Talya
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