On the eve of the India-South Africa Test match in Ranchi, I'm watching Kirket.
That isn't a misspelling. It's a movie, starring Kirti Azad, the former India allrounder of 1983 World Cup fame, and former Member of Parliament, playing himself in a fictionalised narrative of Bihar's victimisation in Indian cricket. I'm watching it in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, the neighbouring state that is the principal villain in this narrative.
Azad's face, glaring out of posters for the movie, had been all over the roads leading to the JSCA Stadium in the days before the Test match. Curiosity had brought me, and maybe 15 others, to Plaza Cinema on the day of Kirket's release.
The story is held together by a loose skeleton of fact. Briefly: Bihar was split into two in 2000, with Jharkhand, its southern half, gaining full statehood. A year later, the BCCI recognised the Jharkhand State Cricket Association as a full member, and deaffiliated the Bihar Cricket Association.
As Bihar, India's third-largest state by population, languished without representation in India's domestic competitions, Jharkhand, the 14th largest state according to the 2011 census, prospered.
The starkest measure of the chasm that opened up between the two states was financial. The BCCI paid out INR 180.95 crores (upwards of USD 25 million going by the current exchange rate) to Jharkhand across the five financial years from 2012-13 to 2016-17. Bihar received INR 50 lakhs (USD 70,000 approximately) in 2012-13, and nothing in the next four years.
It was only in 2016 that Bihar became a full member again, and only in 2018-19 that it returned to top-flight domestic cricket. Azad headed the Association of Bihar Cricket, one of three entities vying to gain the BCCI's recognition. The ABC failed, as did the CAB (you can work out the full form yourself), with the BCA winning the three-way arm-wrestle.
Kirket addresses all this only indirectly, via the vehicle of resentment, some of it no doubt justified, blown up to a shrill pitch of melodrama.
"Ah, yes, Dhoni. He isn't actually in the movie, but his ghost is all over it. Dhoni, the face of Ranchi, the face of Jharkhand. Dhoni, who has played all of four first-class matches for Jharkhand, and, before that, 23 for Bihar." Karthik Krishnaswamy on Kirket
At one point, a BCCI bigwig tells Azad, "Bihar mein cricket nahin, kirket khela jaata hai (They don't play cricket in Bihar, they play kirket)."
Kirket is how the non-English-speaking masses in much of north India, and not just Bihar, pronounce the word. Bihar, the bad guys keep reminding us, is full of yokels and thugs. At various points during the movie, even the good guys seem only too keen to embrace that stereotype.
Beyond that, there's caste and communal politics, selection intrigues, a TV sting operation, an amateurishly filmed T20 tournament, guest appearances from various former cricketers (Atul Wassan, Manoj Prabhakar, Maninder Singh, Vivek Razdan) and even a twist on the Misbah-Joginder moment from the 2007 World T20 final. The acting is terrible, the dialogues are all tell and no show, and if you want production values, you'll get them in the ads during the interval. Like the one for an apparel brand featuring Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, and MS Dhoni.
Ah, yes, Dhoni. He isn't actually in the movie, but his ghost is all over it. Dhoni, the face of Ranchi, the face of Jharkhand. Dhoni, who has played all of four first-class matches for Jharkhand, and, before that, 23 for Bihar.
Imagine an alternate reality where Bihar kept its BCCI membership in 2001, and Jharkhand had to wait until 2016. Where Dhoni had to move from Ranchi to, say, Patna. Where Bihar received 360 times the funding Jharkhand did, which helped pay for a state-of-the-art stadium in Patna, which is about to host an India-South Africa Test match.
If all that had happened, we would not have Kirket. What we might have in its place is too terrifying to contemplate.