The rush of blood to the head as Rocky Balboa locks eyes with James ‘Clubber’ Lang in Rocky 3 after running through walls of fear to the tune of Gonna Fly Now and Survivor’s smash hit Eye of The Tiger. And the lines. “There is no tomorrow! There is no tomorrow! There is no tomorrow!” And, “Nothing is real if you don’t believe in who you are!” The cynicism and the glory of professional sports management in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry MaGuire and the lines, “There’s genius everywhere, but until they turn pro, it’s like popcorn in the pan. Some pop...some don’t.”
Hugh Hudson’s Olympics epic Chariots of Fire that lent its theme music to the recent London Olympics immortalised the image of runners on a beach at the crack of dawn sprinting towards history.
Pele’s signature overhead kick in John Huston’s Escape To Victory where allied prisoners of war at a German prison escape to freedom after a heart-stopping soccer match with the enemy.
Ron Shelton’s Tin Cup tracing the stirring and occasionally hilarious journey of a spent golfer trying to find his way back to glory.
The drama of struggle and triumph inherent to sport is perfect material for filmmaking and hundreds of films have been made on true and imagined sports stories by filmmakers all over the world.
In the ’80s many of us watched on Doordarshan, the televised series Bodyline all the way from Australia and another series on Romanian athlete Nadia Comaneci and her mentor Bela Karolyi and yes, there was one serial made on Milkha Singh but try to remember the biopic of an Indian sportsperson and there will be nothing.
Not even a heart-felt tribute to a P T Usha or hockey legend Dhyan Chand or swimmer Khazan Singh or tennis path-breaker Ramesh Krishnan or sailing champion Farooq Tarapore. Yes, there have been sports films but they have been few and far between.
B R Chopra’s Naya Daur (1957) created a conflict between rural means of livelihood and the heartless automaton of progress and resolved it by racing a tonga against a van in a nail-biting climax.
Prakash Jha’s Hip Hip Hurray (1984) was a coming-of-age story of a difficult student and his complex relationship with a football coach (Raj Kiran) who turns his life around.
We have had shoddy sports films like All Rounder (1984) and Boxer (1984) that were loosely inspired by the Rocky films, Awwal Number (1992), Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal (2007) that tried to replicate moments from Danny Cannon’s Goal! trilogy, and an occasional high point like Nagesh Kukunoor’s 2005 hit Iqbal where a hearing impaired and mute bowler is propelled by his passion to live his cricket dream.
Mansoor Khan’s 1992 outing Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander successfully captured the frenetic rush of a cycle race between the haves and the have nots in a small town. Two of the most notabl e sports film ever made in India are Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan (2001) and Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India (2007).
Lagaan blended the epic sweep of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) and B R Chopra’s Naya Daur and created a modern classic that was worth every minute of its long, drawn out climax.
Chak De! India was radical for two reasons. It had women protagonists in a sports film, possibly a first in mainstream Hindi cinema, and it was about hockey, a sport neglected at every level.
Chak De! India had shades of the 2006 drama We are Marshall, the story of an inspirational coach who turns a struggling, dispirited football team around after its loses it heroes in a plane crash.
Possibly the best and the most undersung Indian film in this genre is Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar (2012) that incisively and bitterly critiques an apathetic country where a medal winning athlete and patriot is forced by circumstances to become a bandit. There are numerous instances of such neglect being meted out to our heroes.
Santhi Soundarajan, a one-time Asian Games silver medallist was found working as a daily labourer in a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu recently.
In a country where only cricket and stereotypical entertainment sell tickets, we do not have a vibrant, diverse sports culture or a cinema that reflects it.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali recently announced that he was going to make a biopic on Mary Kom and Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra is adding finishing touches to Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (yes, a full-length feature film on Milkha Singh finally) starring Farhan Akhtar but there are many more stories waiting to be told.
(Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight, editor of unboxedwriters. com and an RJ)