by Parth Pandya
Sachin Tendulkar tickles the ball to the fine leg boundary. He completes a century and India completes a famous win in Chennai. It is not just a victory. It is a balm to the nation after the horrific attacks in Mumbai. It is December 2008.
I turn to my son and whisper in his ear over the din of the movie, “Do you know what’s so special about this match?”
My eight-year-old shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly.
“You were born that day.”
His eyes light up. I have just given him context.
It is a fleeting moment in a movie filled with many such moments. The movie is ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ and it is a documentary drama based on the life of the legendary Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
I took my sons (8 and 5) to this movie so that they could learn about their father’s favorite cricketer. That was the purported reason and yet, it turned out to be a movie where they learnt a little bit about their father. They saw me animated, engaged, emotional. That is what context does. That is why the children of the 80s and the 90s have warmed up to this film.
This is not a story about Sachin. It is a story of our lives.
For many like me who have followed his career since we first heard of him as a precocious cricketer in 1989, our lives have been dotted with one Sachin innings after another. They ceased to be just runs made in a cause. They were milestones in our lives.
The movie lays them in our path within a span of two hours.
A young Sachin, born into the middle class household of a sensitive poet, a hardworking mother and loving siblings puts aside his love for mischief and discovers an undying passion for cricket when his brother takes him to the famed coach Mr. Ramakant Achrekar.
The movie traces these moments in Sachin’s life through the wonderful enthusiasm of the child actor portraying him. The movie takes you in through the journey of the little boy who combined his precocious talent with a formidable work ethic and a strong support system to make it to the Indian cricket team to tour Pakistan at the age of 16. The message that talent alone is not enough without the will and hard work to see it to its logical end is there for everyone to grasp.
Tendulkar narrates most of the movie himself, with his family members, his teammates and opponents all pitching in.
As the years roll by, his pursuit of the World Cup gives the movie its rhythm. Through this turmoil, the rise of Tendulkar paralleling the rise of India in the 90s is shown. His great innings start rolling on the scenes and I could hear knowledgeable people in the theater nod their head when he carts Caddick for a six or smashes Kasprowicz in Sharjah. Don Bradman makes an appearance when he talks about how Sachin reminds him of his younger self and Akram chimes in to say that their strategy to win against India was centered around getting Sachin out.
Sachin lays clear his self-doubt when playing his first test match, his frustrations at being dumped as a captain, his thoughts on the the match fixing saga that enveloped cricket, the pain of the many injuries he suffers. But those looking for spicy tidbits or controversy will be largely disappointed. To that end, the movie panders to the non-critical fan, not the neutral observer who might be expecting to hear about the Ferrari controversy or the famous 194 declaration incident.
We get a glimpse into the partnership that makes him tick – that with his wife Anjali. We get to see him as the goofball father who regrets not getting enough time with his children but makes every moment count when he is with them.
I sat through the movie absorbing this life story even though I knew everything there was to know about it. I could recognize every statistic that was mentioned. I had reveled in all the victories that were shown and I had felt heartbroken at every defeat that we had suffered with the little man at the center of it all.
And yet I stayed glued. A.R. Rahman’s pulsating background score with chants of ‘Sachin, Sachin’ remind the viewer of what stadiums felt like when Tendulkar was in the middle. James Erskine does a good job as a director and his most important feat was getting Tendulkar as a narrator to very simply and effectively tell his own story. Special mention must be made about the editing of the movie for it could not have easy to walk through hours and hours of footage and pick the right gems that people could relate to.
The movie rides on nostalgia. It rides on emotion. And that is appropriate. For calling Tendulkar a mere batsman, however good he may have been, does disservice to what he meant to people. There is a poignant moment at the end where Ramesh Tendulkar says with pride, “The thing that gives me most satisfaction is that people think of Sachin as their own. As part of their family.” That sums up the reaction to this film. That sums up my emotions as I sat through this.
Even die-hard Tendulkar fans accept that post retirement, his aura has dimmed as he tries to find a footing in the world outside cricket with constant product promotions and social media pandering. This movie can either be viewed cynically as another rung down the ladder for him or a sincere attempt to share his inspiring journey with the world. I chose the latter.
I have never cried in a movie theater before but found myself welling up quite often. My sons will grow up in the age of Kohli and in the razzmatazz of the IPL. And yet they’ll have known now that Sachin is special. Because the movie said so. Because their father was teary eyed.
Sachin wistfully says in the movie, “Cricket is like oxygen to me.” Surely he must know that for the India that witnessed his growth and continues to shower love on him despite him struggling to find a way to stay relevant post retirement, he has been like oxygen.
At the end of this very subjective review, I can only ask you to watch this movie in a theater. You’ll not be disappointed.