The act of the game

Issue 01, 2020

The act of the game

Aarti Kapur Singh |author

Issue 01, 2020

Films based on sportspersons are entertaining, inspirational and relatable. They not only promote sports but ensure that sporting legends are not forgotten

The story of a fighter who wins against all odds has eternally inspired humanity. The passion to succeed, the struggle of the journey and finally, the joy of winning has been the most popular storyline ever. In India, sports has always been high on entertainment and the line between the two have often blurred, leading to films being based on lives of sports persons. Recently, the Hindi film industry has been experimenting with sports-related movies and Dangal, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Mary Kom, Azhar, Budhia Singh: Born to Run and Soorma are some of the sports biopics that have released over the last few years. The financial and critical success of these projects have encouraged more filmmakers to delve into the genre.

Increasing scores

Movies on sportspeople allow filmmakers to combine three essential ingredients: drama, euphoria and action or heroism, besides cashing in on the fame and fan following of the subject. “Sport lends itself to thrilling moments. For a director, it’s easy to choose a character, show him going through vigorous physical training, add jingoism and a sports film with mass appeal is ready,” says Tigmanshu Dhulia, who directed Paan Singh Tomar (2012) based on the life of the soldier-turned-athlete. Expanding on why sportspeople appeal to filmmakers, he adds: “Sports films are made because the lead character is known to many, if not a star already, which helps in marketing the movie.”

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput (left) with Indian cricketer MS Dhoni (right). Singh played the role of Dhoni in a movie made on the sports star.

The advantage perhaps also lies in unique stories of these personalities that are waiting to be told. The stories present themselves and the promotions ride on the back of curiosity about the life of a person already popular. If not known, movies help tell the story of these real legends. “Cinema audience like larger-than-life heroes. It’s the reason stars like Salman Khan and Rajinikanth are so famous, because they are shown to be pulling off superhuman feats in their films. Sportspeople are real-life heroes, as they perform physical feats regular people cannot. So, when their story transitions to the screen, the heroism is easy to replicate,” says actor Harshvardhan Kapoor, who is gearing to play Olympic gold medallist shooter Abhinav Bindra in a biopic. Agrees actor Parineeti Chopra, who is set to play badminton ace Saina Nehwal in the latter’s biopic titled Saina. “Saina has achieved a lot at her young age and her story truly inspires me. But it’s also challenging because the audience is aware of her and any mistake I make in my depiction will be highlighted,” says Chopra.

Ranveer Singh (left) is all set to play Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev (right) in a film tracing the latter’s successful career

Another factor that helps is that sportstars are ordinary people with extraordinary passion and grit. Their stories are relatable. “Mary Kom was an ordinary girl till she started winning medals. The audience recognises her circumstances and struggles. In the end comes the hope that if an ordinary girl like Mary Kom can success, so can we!” says Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer of Viacom18 Motion Pictures, which has been backing several projects on Indian sports.

Sports-based movies to look out for

  • ’83 Starring Ranveer Singh, this movie is going to be a glorious retelling of the 1983 Cricket World Cup.
  • Saina Parineeti Chopra is set to play badminton champion Saina Nehwal in this biographical film.
  • Toofan Filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and actor Farhan Akhtar are back together for Toofan, a fictional story of a boxer.
  • Rashmi Rocket Starring actress Taapsee Pannu, it is believed to follow a girl’s journey as a runner in a Gujarati village and how she overcomes various obstacles to achieve victory.
  • Maidaan This Ajay Devgn starrer is a biopic on the life of football coach Syed Abdul Rahim, who is known as the architect of modern Indian football.
  • Jersey Shahid Kapoor is all set to play a cricketer in the Hindi version of Jersey, which was originally a Telugu film.
  • Shabash Mithu This is a biopic of Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian Women’s Cricket team, starring Tapsee Pannu.
  • Abhinav Bindra’s biopic The under-wraps film on ace marksman Abhinav Bindra has Harshvardhan Kapoor playing the lead role.
  • The Pullela Gopichand biopic An untitled biopic on ace badminton player Pullela Gopichand has been announced by Fox Star Studios.
  • Dhyan Chand biopic Filmmaker Pooja Shetty has announced a film on the life of the great hockey player.
  • PV Sindhu biopic Actor Sonu Sood is producing a film on the young badminton player.
  • PT Usha biopic Director Revathy S Varmha will make a film on the legendary athlete in English.
  • Murlikant Petkar biopic Actor Sushant Singh Rajput has reportedly been signed on to play the differently-abled sportsman who won the gold at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.

New flavour

There is also an argument about changing tastes of the evolving audience of Indian cinema and movies on sports are refreshing when compared to the staple fare. “Currently Bollywood is looking at stories beyond romance and revenge. We have dispelled standard templates and our films have stopped being monochromatic in themes. Also, movies represent the different conversations that are taking place in society and as India accepts sports other than cricket as a career option, people are becoming eager to see more success stories from the field,” says Andhare. Agrees Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who directed Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and is working with actor Farhan Akhtar to make Toofan, which is based on the story of an Indian boxer. “The audience has evolved and wants to watch fresh content. People are also becoming more patient about creativity and looking for out-of-the-box ideas, irrespective of who the cast is,” he says.

Happy endings

Finally, it’s the feel-good factor to sports that makes films about them appealing. Industry experts say that movies with sad endings do not do well at the Indian box office. A well-deserved triumph is what every filmmaker looks for. Euphoria is integral to a sports film, which gets audiences involved in an emotional level. In 2001, when Lagaan — a sport-related film, though not a biopic — was released, audiences in cinemas cheered in the end when a last-ball boundary gave the Indian villagers, a win over their colonial challengers. Most filmmakers say there is a part of the story, of the athlete’s life, that most people do not know about. This becomes a focal point for the film. For example, the audience was familiar with cricketer MS Dhoni’s on-field success but when his biopic released, the talking point became his struggle off the cricket pitch.

Indian film actors (from left) Angad Bedi, Diljit Dosanjh and Tapsee Pannu during the promotion of Soorma, the biopic of Indian hockey player Sandeep Singh. Dosanjh played the role of Singh in the film.

As Indian sportspersons keep winning on the field, filmmakers are getting more options to narrate their stories. Even if a sportsman loses a championship, the story still remains positive and inspirational. The genre of sport movies has the ability to highlight challenges the masses face, albeit in an entertaining fashion. It stands for such values as liberation, resilience and unfailing spirit, among others. A well-made sport movie provides the thrill as well as the wisdom. It also helps in the promotion of sports and inspires thousands of youngsters to make a career in the same.

Aarti Kapur Singh

Aarti is an independent writer with close to two decades’ experience in various media. After securing a doctorate in film studies, she is now indulging in her passion to discover the world. She writes on food, luxury, films, travel, wellness and celebrities.
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