Take the topic of cricket in Hindi cinema and the temptation to concoct a quiz is irresistible. For instance, name the actors who played father and daughter in two films featuring the game.
That would be Naseeruddin Shah and Urmila Matondkar, in Masoom and Chamatkar.
Which is the first film to depict the inner workings of the BCCI? The answer: Awwal Number, released in 1990, which is also the film that institutionalised the trope of the last-ball six, inspired, no doubt, by Javed Miandad's decisive strike off Chetan Sharma in the 1986 Austral-Asia Cup final.
Which actor was the first to play a cricket-crazy fan? Mala Sinha doesn't instantly spring to mind, but there she is in Subodh Mukerji's Love Marriage (1959), brightening up the walls of her flat with pictures of Vinoo Mankad and Khandu Rangnekar. A few scenes later she clips out from a newspaper the picture of the latest batting sensation. You may have heard his name: Dev Anand.
Why wasn't there much cricket on screen before Love Marriage? Probably because there wasn't much sport on screen in the first place - not even in the throwaway sense of the Mr India (1987) scene where Sridevi tries to convince a group of children playing cricket on the beach that she is friends with an invisible man. Scenes weren't "staged" then, with all the look-what's-happening-around looseness that outdoor shooting brought with it. Films were shot on sets, and they still followed the theatrical tradition of confining the proscenium to the main characters, the main story. Plus, the narratives of the time were largely about people who had to eke out a livelihood. Who had the time for sport? Only the rich. Hence the game of badminton in which Dilip Kumar single-handedly takes on Nargis and Cuckoo in Andaz (1949), whose characters seemed to occupy the places (and the palaces) left vacant by the British. The sports get even more rarefied once Raj Kapoor makes his entry. He takes Nargis riding. Then they play golf.
"Aamir Khan finished the fictitious game in Lagaan with a six. Ten years on, Dhoni finished a real World Cup final in similar fashion"
But as the '40s give way to the '50s, we move from these private playgrounds to Jhansi's Sporting Club in Love Marriage, where Sunil (Dev Anand) is the star batsman. The arrival of the cricketing hero in this decade is probably no accident. This was when India won their first Test (against England in 1952). The exploits of the off-screen heroes translate easily to heroic deeds on screen. The first time we see Sunil, he is in the middle of the pitch, acknowledging the crowd's applause after dispatching the ball to the boundary.
The next stretch of cricket in the film comes when Sunil moves to Bombay for a job. His boss is looking for an opening batsman for the company's team. Sunil offers his services, calling himself the best batsman of Jhansi. The boss laughs. "There's a lot of difference between Jhansi and Bombay," he says. "You won't last two minutes with the kind of bowling you'll face here." Sunil insists. He says he'll either score a century or quit his job. (Forty-two years later, the protagonist of Lagaan will play under the shadow of a similar "bet": no tax if he wins, triple-tax if he loses.) Sunil's neighbour Geeta (Mala Sinha) laughs when he asks her the way to Brabourne Stadium. She calls him a gilli-danda player with delusions of grandeur. But as she is going to watch the match, she allows him to accompany her. We cut to the game. She watches as he takes guard. He attempts what looks like an on-drive. He misses. The ball goes to leg slip. He turns quickly and touches the crease. She is amused. It's exactly what she had expected.
But then he comes down the pitch and hits the ball straight. We get cover drives. Something that looks like a pull shot. A square cut. As cricket, none of this is remotely convincing. It is as though Sunil is the only batsman in the team. We don't get a sense of the score. His team seems to be batting first - how, then, is victory declared after Sunil's dazzling innings? What about the other side? But then we are quickly reminded that the title of the film isn't Test Cricket. It is Love Marriage. The sport is just a device to unite hero and heroine. The point isn't this match. The point is the song that follows: "She ne khela he se aaj cricket match / Ek nazar mein dil bechaara ho gayaa lbw." (She played cricket with he / Her glance made him fall lbw.) Thereafter there is no cricket - only love, and marriage.
Awwal Number (1990), Dev Anand's next visit to the Brabourne Stadium, is much more about the sport. This time, he is both actor and director. He plays Vikram Singh, whose résumé is surely among the strangest in Hindi cinema. He is the Director General of Police, who retires after catching a bullet in the stomach. Then, inexplicably, he becomes president of the BCCI, presiding over meetings in which the other members chomp on cigars and chew pan masala. (Not just any brand but Pan Parag. This must be one of the earliest instances of product placement.) Vikram Singh is also the stepbrother of the Indian team's star batsman Ronnie (Aditya Pancholi), who cheerfully refers to himself as "desh ka darling (the country's darling). (This may be one reason Imran Khan, who was the first choice for the role, politely turned it down; the other may be the ending, in which Ronnie slaps on a fedora and a fake moustache, climbs into a helicopter and sets out to rain bombs on a cricket match in which he was denied a place in the team).
"The most famous of Salman Khan's cricketing moments is surely the one at the beginning of Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Hindi cinema's (and the world's) only cricket match umpired by an Indian Spitz"
Awwal Number is clearly more comedy than cricket movie, but it does reflect the ethos of an era when the game was still suffused with a sense of class warfare. Ronnie, who was personally coached by his brother (a montage shows him producing hooks and sweeps on command), is upset by the quick rise of his rival, Sunny (Aamir Khan), who lived in a motor garage and polished shoes for a living. There is a reason Sunny bears the name of the most legendary Indian cricketer of the time. As a boy, he once chanced upon Gavaskar, who was stranded on the road because of a puncture. Sunny fixed Sunny's tyre. The grateful cricketer began to sponsor the youngster's studies, and more importantly, gave him a bat and a ball. These weren't just gifts. They were a gateway to a different life.
All Rounder (1984), too, gives us a player with talent but no means. Ajay (Kumar Gaurav) is the son of the groundskeeper of a posh cricket club (shades of Eknath Solkar), and the only way he can play is by sneaking in early and "borrowing" the equipment of club member Vikram (Shakti Kapoor). Vikram beats up Ajay for daring to use his bat and pads, but Ajay gets his revenge by becoming a great bowler (every ball yields a wicket), a great batsman (every innings yields a century), a great fielder (the ball falls into his hands every time). He goes on to win Man of the Match, which carries a prize of Rs 21,000, or roughly what Virat Kohli makes per second today.
Despite coming on the heels of the greatest moment in Indian cricket, the 1983 World Cup victory, neither Awwal Number nor All Rounder is strictly a cricketing story. If the former conforms to the template of a regular hero-versus-villain potboiler, with Ronnie out to destroy Sunny, the latter morphs into a saga of personal redemption. After being (falsely) accused of drinking and sleeping around, Ajay is dropped from the Indian team and has to claw his way back to the top. Ajay could have been a musician or a disgraced doctor and the film wouldn't have played out very differently. Which brings us to the question: what, precisely, is a "cricket movie"? Is it simply one in which a character plays cricket? In that case, Kabhi Ajnabi The (1985), which marked Sandeep Patil's entry into (and equally nimble exit from) Hindi cinema, certainly qualifies. Even the heroine (Asha, played by Poonam Dhillon) pitches in: she reads Sportsweek. When she brings her father to watch Patil (who plays a cricketer named Sandeep) play, he gets out first ball. She storms up to him in the dressing room and says, "No century, no marriage." He draws her close and replies, "No kiss, no century."
Patil demonstrates an impressive ability to remain unabashed when faced with such lines, and he even aces the love-struck Hindi film hero's signature move of producing notes from a guitar without moving either hand. But alas, the film gradually morphs into a maudlin love triangle, and its only memorable moment is at the beginning, when we see the Indian team (including Sandeep) return with the World Cup. Asha is at the airport, amid throngs of screaming fans. She wants to meet Sandeep, but he disappears with the rest of the team. Ashok Mankad, who is a friend, tells her about a party. Sandeep will be there. Mankad says he'll introduce them. Asha's father doesn't understand the fuss. He tells her, "What's the big deal hitting a ball with a bat? The guy who does that becomes a cricket player, and ends up touring America and Russia." Asha smiles patiently. "They don't play cricket in America and Russia." Her father digests this and replies, "They're smart. That's why these two countries have made the most progress."
While considering the cricket movie, then, we should also make room for films that denounce our obsession with the game. Tejasvini (1994), modelled on Kiran Bedi's exploits, has little to do with sport, but it does - rather hilariously, it must be said - feature Deepak Malhotra as an angry young man, who is introduced in a scene where he is reading a newspaper by the side of a busy street. He slaps a passerby who asks him a question, and explains, "The price of newspapers has gone up from 25 paise to Rs 4. The price of dal has risen from Rs 5 to Rs 25. The cost of a bus ticket has shot up from 50 paise to Rs 5. And this guy wants to know what the cricket score is?" Anwar, the deaf-mute fast bowler's father in Nagesh Kukunoor's Iqbal (2005), is more equanimous. The man is a farmer. He hates the game because the whole country shuts down during a match, causing great losses to the economy. "Isn't it better that the money being spent on cricket is spent, instead, to improve the lot of farmers?" A slyer point is made when we see that Iqbal's buffaloes, which double as his team-mates, are named Kumble, Harbhajan, Balaji, Irfan and Kapil. "Because the batsmen always walk away with all the glory." We are, of course, not invited to wonder what it says about these bowlers when they are cast as bucolic grass-munchers.
"There are no underdogs in the utterly delightful Chennai 600028 - there are no heroes either. Cricket, here, isn't a metaphor"
Compared to the fantasies of earlier cricketing films, the later ones, like Iqbal, are relatively rooted in reality. Players showing promise aren't automatically given blue jerseys. They have to prove themselves in Ranji Trophy matches first, and impress selectors who may have been bribed to pick sons of deep-pocketed men. Even the otherwise risible Victory (2009) charts a credible course for the Jaisalmer-based Vijay Shekhawat (Harman Baweja), who finds it difficult to showcase his talent outside his home town. Then, as luck would have it, the Indian team sets up camp in Jaipur to prepare for a tour of Australia. They need talented locals for net practice. It's a great opportunity to impress the coach. That Vijay does, smashing Ashish Nehra and Harbhajan Singh for fours and sixes. He is selected to a Ranji team, scores a double-century, and makes Navjot Singh Sidhu exclaim, "This young man is not just knocking at the doors of Team India. He's breaking them down."
What follows is a morality tale about becoming too rich, too famous too soon. (Vijay's statistics during his first overseas tour, to Australia: five matches, three centuries, 410 runs and a batting average of 137.) We see an aspect of cricket we did not see in the films of the 1980s. Cricketers aren't just players. They are brands, and they sell brands. Vijay moves to Mumbai so he can be closer to ad shoots. His game suffers. He is banned for six months for lying about a spine injury (if he doesn't play, the ads go away), and it's not going to be easy to rise to the top again. He fixes his back, his attitude, his game. He heads back to the Ranji arena and works his way back into the Indian team - but as 12th man, fetching drinks. (It's India v Australia again. The Airtel Champions trophy.) But when Rohit Sharma is injured, the coach has to decide between Suresh Raina and Vijay Shekhawat. To no one's surprise, Vijay comes out to bat. India need 218 to win, at about nine runs an over. He partners Dinesh Karthik, then Yusuf Pathan comes in (clean-bowled first ball), then Praveen Kumar. Rarely has a Hindi movie strived to be so authentic about its setting, about getting the audience to believe that its protagonist is part of the Indian team, that this is really cricket.
Of course, if things were completely authentic, we wouldn't have a movie. A Brett Lee bouncer clips Vijay on the head. He is taken off the field in a stretcher. But when two more wickets fall, Vijay has to return. And he does: six sixes from a Stuart Clark over. India win. The Indian audience, though, remained indifferent. The film flopped. Like Awwal Number. Like All Rounder. Like Kabhi Ajnabi The. Why is it that a sport so religiously followed in the country rarely works when depicted on screen? When there is so much of it on TV, maybe it takes something extra to draw viewers to theatres.
Kai Po Che! (2013), though, was a hit and it echoes a number of Victory's plot points. Another blistering talent rising through the Ranji Trophy and promoted to the Indian team in a series against Australia. Another episode about six sixes in an over. More genuine cricket-speak, like the injunction to a bowler to try an outswinger by gripping the ball so that the seam points left, the shiny side right. But here is the extra: the player is a Muslim named Ali. The story is set in Ahmedabad in the early 2000s, about the time it appeared that everything in India had begun to revolve around religion. And yet the film reminds us that, at least when cricket is on, blue trumps saffron and green. The New York Times wasn't very impressed with the film, but still noted that "there's a measure of optimism in the story's insistence that communal barriers can be transcended, however briefly or imperfectly, through the national pastime, cricket".
Enough already about the Indian team. Where are the films in which people just play cricket? In 2007, Hindi cinema gave us Say Salaam India, which depicts the clash between two schools (one elite, one corporation), and two methods of coaching, the Indian way ("If you play to your potential, it doesn't matter even if you lose") and the Australian way ("Winning is everything, even if achieved through dubious means!"). This is the rare cricket film that makes a case for "more traditional" Indian sports like kabaddi, kho-kho, hockey, and especially wrestling, which a Hanuman-worshipping coach calls "the most spectacular sport on earth". Still, Say Salaam India cannot resist the Lagaan-like narrative of the underdog triumphing against sky-high odds, and for truer-to-life, less "cinematic" cricketing stories, we have to turn southwards.
"Compared to the fantasies of earlier cricketing films, the later ones, like Iqbal, are relatively rooted in reality. Players showing promise aren't automatically given blue jerseys"
There are no underdogs in the utterly delightful Chennai 600028 (Tamil; 2007) - there are no heroes either. Cricket, here, isn't a metaphor, as in Lagaan or Iqbal. This isn't about socking it to the white guy or overcoming disability. This is simply about the joy of playing, a small story about small teams and their small triumphs. In the best scene, a man walks into a corporation playground, casually picks up a bat and calls out to a kid: "Hey you, can you toss a few balls this way?" It's a wonderfully offhand bit that acquires special poignancy when we recall the conspiracy theories swirling around player selection - because it says that as long as there's street cricket, anyone can play.
Or consider 1983 (Malayalam; 2014). Despite the title harking back to the World Cup, this is a very local story about a villager named Rameshan (Nivin Pauly), whose only passion is the game he plays with friends who wear lungis and flip-flops, on open land, as know-it-all locals unleash flavourful commentary. ("The brothers Niteesh Kumar and Bineesh Kumar have come as opening batsmen of Champions team, like Mark and Steve Waugh.") After a successful match, Rameshan's batting is singled out in an emotional speech by the chief guest. "After 1983, small grounds sprouted all over India, throughout villages. We've all heard of the players who have succeeded: Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly. But there are lakhs who have failed. These small grounds in Kerala are littered with dashed dreams. These kinds of tournaments, though not seen outside, help to showcase astonishing local talents - like the man who scored a century in 40 balls. He is here somewhere." Note the indefinite pronoun. The chief guest doesn't even know Rameshan's name.
Rameshan wants better things for his son. He enrols him in a coaching class, despite being admonished for putting too much pressure on a small child. And we come to the father-son bond that animates cricket in our movies. At its most benign we have the one in the otherwise strife-riddled Mission Kashmir (2000). After the death of his cricket-loving son, a soldier (Sanjay Dutt) brings home a boy whose family he wiped out while hunting down a terrorist. In a dream scene, the dead son tosses a ball to his replacement. The next time the family plays cricket, the soldier hears the boy address him with a word he has never used earlier: abba.
But in the films where Naseeruddin Shah plays the father, things get more contentious. In Masoom (1983), Shah is the father of two girls who discovers an illegitimate son from his past. He is secretly thrilled. He always wanted a boy, someone he can take to the cricket games at his friend's, someone who can bowl out his friend's son, someone who can make him crow with pride, in a way his girls cannot. In Monsoon Wedding (2001), Shah takes this business of masculinity to the extreme, berating his seemingly gay son who is mad about Bollywood movies and dreams of becoming a chef. "Look at you... [you] big huge hulk," he fumes. "[You] can't spend your whole life singing and dancing… You don't do any exercise. You don't even play cricket…"
"Awwal Number is clearly more comedy than cricket movie, but it does reflect the ethos of an era when the game was still suffused with the sense of class warfare"
For a father who doesn't want his son to play cricket, you have Patiala House (2011), the story of London-based Gurtej Singh Kahlon (Rishi Kapoor), so scarred by early experiences with racism that he will not allow son Gattu (Akshay Kumar) to play for England. The film is based on the life of Monty Panesar, England's first Sikh player, and is speckled with cameos. Nasser Hussain and Andrew Symonds show up on screen. Off-screen, Balwinder Singh Sandhu honed Akshay Kumar's bowling, though a key trick ("eight steps, wrong foot") harks back to Lala Amarnath.
What would cricketing movies be without these guest stars? No, not Salim Durani in Charitra (1973) - this isn't a guest role and neither does the film have anything to do with cricket. But Gavaskar certainly qualifies. In Maalamaal (1988), Naseeruddin Shah is found hanging out with Gavaskar. Their respective teams play a much-publicised match. Gavaskar's team wins - he takes the last wicket, diving for a spectacular catch off his own bowling. Later, when Shah invites him to a post-game party, he regretfully refuses. "I've invited the selectors for dinner. To butter them up."
Kapil Dev is undoubtedly the king of cricketing cameos. Consider the final scenes in Karmyoddha (1992), which occur during a cricket match sponsored by the film's villain, who manufactures cigarettes. Today it is impossible to imagine a stadium festooned with banners declaring "Senior - it's a different kind of cigarette." But it gets worse. The hero Sameer (Raj Babbar) knows the cigarettes are laced with brown sugar, to get smokers addicted to the brand, and he strides into the field to unmask the villain. Security tries to haul him away. Kapil, who is playing, stops them and gives Sameer a chance to say his piece. A similar scene unfolds in Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004) - this time, Kapil paaji plays Cupid!
It's one of the more bizarre India-Pakistan matches. Everyone who was anyone seems to be there - Irfan Pathan, Javagal Srinath, Nehra, Harbhajan, Parthiv Patel, Mohammad Kaif, and even a blue-shirted, blue-turbaned Sidhu, who leaps from his seat in the commentator's box and exclaims, "There's been an intrusion on the field. Goodness gracious me!" He's referring to Salman Khan, who has broken through security and is determined to declare his love for Priyanka Chopra, somewhere in the stands. The security guys catch up with Salman and overpower him, but as he is dragged away, Kapil throws him a mike and says, "He wants to say something. Looks like a matter of the heart." An immeasurably moved Sidhu announces, "Love is a condition of the mind when the mind is out of condition!"
In Stumped (2003), a decidedly odd mix of cricket and Kargil-era patriotism, Kapil joins Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ravi Shastri in praising India's soldiers on the border. In the closing portions of Iqbal, we see Kapil tell the boy's coach (Naseeruddin Shah again; Hindi cinema apparently cannot make a cricket movie without him!), "The Indian team needs someone like him." The nation agreed. This was, after all, the time when we were obsessed with unearthing a genuine fast bowler. Then there is Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii (2007), a film that revolves around Kapil's bat. A 13-year-old orphan stumbles on a bat with this inscription: "KD83". Is this the bat Kapil used in the 1983 World Cup? It certainly seems to imbue the boy with brilliance on the field, so much so that he beats Hasan Raza's record to become the youngest to play for his country.
Movies-featuring-things-that-belong-to-cricketers isn't quite a subgenre, but we also have Ferrari ki Sawari (2012), which features Tendulkar's controversial car. Rusy (Sharman Joshi) wants to send his talented son to an Under-14 training camp at Lord's. But how to conjure up the Rs 1.5 lakh fee? Enter a local politician who wants a Roman theme for his son's wedding, including a Roman car to parade the groom. Rusy hatches a plan to "borrow" Tendulkar's car for just a day and lend it to the politician for... Rs. 1.5 lakh. Rusy's curmudgeonly father thinks it's all a waste. He rails at today's players. "They are not cricketers. They are salesmen. Ever heard of Don Bradman selling hair gel?"
"The arrival of the cricketing hero in the 1950s is probably no accident. This was when India won their first Test against England, in 1952"
Then we have the films in which the players themselves are objects of desire. In Hattrick (2007), which features three stories loosely linked by cricket, Kunal Kapoor plays Saby, who is so cricket-obsessed that he ends up watching a World Cup match on his wedding night. Wife Kashmira (Rimi Sen) is unhappy, but soon, heeding a friend's if-you-can't-beat-him-join-him advice, she begins to watch cricket too and is turned on by the hunky MS Dhoni. That night, making love to Saby, she utters Dhoni's name. Saby is devastated. He quickly loses interest in the game.
What is with the noughties that real-life cricketers turned into sex symbols on screen? Anil Kumble cameos as the object of worship in Meerabai Not Out (2008), where Mandira Bedi makes the transition from noodle-strapped TV host to cricket-crazy middle-class maths teacher on screen. Will she realise there is more to life than crushing on unattainable men?
At least Veera (Rani Mukerji), in Dil Bole Hadippa! (2009), is far more chaste about her fandom. She likes Tendulkar because they are both short, and she likes Kapil because they are both Punjabi. Applying a vermilion mark to a photograph of Kapil, Veera says, "In 1983, a Punjabi lifted the World Cup. Paaji, in 2011, another Punjabi, your Veera, will lift the World Cup." Her words were surprisingly prophetic. India did win in 2011. And yet, Dil Bole Hadippa! isn't actually about the World Cup. It's about the Aman Cup, awarded to the winner of the "friendly" (and, needless to say, fictitious) match played every 15th of August at the Wagah border, between the Indian Tigers and the Pakistani Champs. The film - and this is its sole redeeming virtue - is more about the millennia-old rivalry between the sexes. Even if a woman is capable of smashing six sixes in an over (there we go again!), even if she can bat right- and left-handed, the only way she can get into the Indian Tigers is by disguising herself as a man. The logical among you are going to jump up and demand why Veera cannot be part of a women's cricket team, but see what she has to say at the end, after winning the match (with not a boundary but, refreshingly, an all-run four). "Where are the women's teams here? When a 'girl' is one of the best in the country, why can't she play with the men? Look at the player's game, not name."
This idealism is amusing for a film that came a year after Jannat (2008), which was the first cricket-centric Hindi film with an antagonist at its centre. Arjun (Emraan Hashmi) isn't a player trying to make the team. He isn't a gruff-but-good-hearted coach. He doesn't even seem very interested in cricket, which, to him, is simply an opportunity to make money. Arjun is a small-time gambler, who, when summoned to South Africa by Don Abu Ibrahim (Javed Sheikh), realises how many millions can be made by betting on cricket after fixing matches. It was only a matter of time before the shadow of the 2000 match-fixing scandal fell over the genre of the cricket film, and Hashmi revisits this world again in this year's Azhar, where he plays the titular cricketer, who became one of the biggest casualties of fixing. In 2009, we had World Cupp 2011, in which the captain of the Indian team (Ravi Kapoor, playing a character named… Indulkar) accepts a bribe to throw the 2007 World Cup final against Pakistan. (The final was actually between Australia and Sri Lanka, and India and Pakistan were both eliminated in the first round, but heck, India v Pakistan is just so much more cinematic.) Indulkar is exposed, reviled and banned for a convenient period of four years, so he can seek redemption in the next World Cup. Again, an India-Pakistan final. As Veera predicted in Dil Bole Hadippa!, India did win the 2011 World Cup. But what were the odds that another film from 2009 saw this coming?
We began with Dev Anand, a third of the reigning triumvirate of the 1950s, and it's only fair that we end with the three Khans who have lorded over Hindi cinema during the period when the cricket movie bloomed into a genuine genre. Salman Khan doesn't have a full-blooded cricket movie to his name, but many of his films feature trickles of cricket. In Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998), he pays the opposite side to lose. Before you yell "match-fixing!" spare a thought for his motives - he wants to win simply to impress college-mate Kajol. Things take a more serious turn in Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001), where Salman's pregnant wife, Rani Mukerji, attempts to catch the ball during a family game - she trips, falls and loses the baby, setting up the film's story about surrogate parenthood. But the most famous of Salman's cricketing moments is surely the one at the beginning of Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Hindi cinema's (and the world's) only cricket match umpired by an Indian Spitz.
"She storms up to Sandeep Patil in the dressing room and says, "No century, no marriage." He draws her close and replies, "No kiss, no century" A scene from Kabhi Ajnabi The
Unlike Salman, Shah Rukh's cricket moments don't actually see him playing. In Darr (1993), the heroine's brother Vijay (Anupam Kher) is the cricket fanatic. When we first see him, he is in a stadium, watching the last day's play in an India-England match. He is not only giving ball-by-ball commentary to whoever cares to listen ("India needs just two wickets to win... Azhar's set a tight field"), he's attired in the Indian team's togs, including gloves and pads. He likes to be prepared because the way the Indian team is playing, they may need to call on him.
In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), the cricketing duties fall on Hrithik Roshan, who plays Shah Rukh's younger brother. His first shot is quite literally a shot. He is batting for the English team Manor House (they're playing Woodstock International). It is the last ball. Five runs needed. What are the odds it's going to be a six? This is the first time we see a helmet given place of pride - a Readers, with a gleaming grille. An accident of the camera's desire to lovingly record Roshan's face from every angle, or Hindi cinema's first cricket-based product placement? The game doesn't feature prominently in the film, but its capacity to glue together a nation - and estranged brothers - is exploited in the scene where Shah Rukh and Hrithik are on the road, listening to commentary of an England v India match at The Oval. They exult when India win. "We have won," Shah Rukh says. Hrithik, who is here to get his far-flung family together and hasn't yet told his brother who he is, looks meaningfully at Shah Rukh and says, "We will win." Howzzat for melodrama?
Chamatkar (1992) - in which Shah Rukh pretends to be a cricket coach, and is hired by a college for Rs 600 a month - is more of an actual "cricket film", more so because it functions as a prototype for Aamir Khan's Lagaan (2001). Consider the similarities. Both films are about a tract of land (a college in Chamatkar, a village in Lagaan) whose fate will be decided by a game of cricket. If the underdogs in Chamatkar get a deus ex machina in the form of a ghost named Marco (played by Naseeruddin Shah, again!), the villagers of Lagaan get the spirited Elizabeth, the British villain's sister. Some may argue that Lagaan's roots run deeper. In the 1930 play Badger's Green, a London-based property developer wants to take over a picturesque village and, when faced with protests, allows the outcome of a cricket match to decide the villagers' future. Then again, chew on this: the star batsman of the opposite side in Chamatkar, determined to crush the underdogs by means more foul than fair, is played by... Ashutosh Gowariker, who would go on to direct Lagaan.
Aamir finished the fictitious game in Lagaan with a six. Ten years on, Dhoni finished a real World Cup final in similar fashion - with a shot that featured prominently in the trailer for the recently released Dhoni: The Untold Story. This is a quirky parallel, but also illustrative of the changing nature of the cricketing movie in Hindi cinema: fiction is fast turning into fact. After the films on Azhar and Dhoni, we will see Sachin: A Billion Dreams. The subtitle is perfect. Ours is the only country where billions dream about both cricket and cinema.