The year was 2001 and Lagaan made it to the Oscar nominations in the Best Foreign Language category. For the first time a cricket match seemed like the best crescendo climax a film can ever have. To the world beyond Britain, whose biggest game is either soccer, baseball or tennis, cricket had made the right noise with that one film.
Six years later, Tamil cinema arrived with its own cricket-tale! Venkat Prabhu’s Chennai-28 (2007) assembled 11 players on either side and weaved-in a simple story with effective humour. The film had score details on screen and the teams literally played some matches for the camera (Venkat Prabhu is gearing up to deliver a sequel this year). Interestingly, both Lagaan and Chennai-28 had a great sound-track byAR Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja respectively.
Music, however, is not one of the strong points of MS Dhoni — The Untold Story. What makes up for some of the lags (the romantic angle specially) is the knock-out superlative performance from Sushant Singh Rajput as Dhoni. This Hindi film dubbed in Tamil unites all Tamilians in the theatre with one emotion — cricket! The theatre erupts in one big roar at the first sighting of the blue jersey No: 7 and continues to applaud as if on cue, at every match that’s masterfully recreated with footages of real matches juxtaposed with Sushant’s correct emotions, as if it was he who played the game for real. He nails Dhoni’s famous helicopter shot also on-screen!
Prior to Chennai-28, there were no sports film in Tamil with the cricket screenplay as the focus and no mainstream Tamil hero has ever played a sports icon till date. Films on sports are always a ‘triumph-of-the-under-dog’ story where the protagonist wins against all odds. Venkat Prabhu’s tongue-in-cheek humour surfaces when the big boys lose to the high school team players in a beach-match and later, the film finishes as a face-off with both these teams and the rest is anyone’s guess.
Romantic dalliances, family equations, friendships and the level of personal determination it takes for a player to get to the winning moment — all this is great fodder for good story-telling (Tamil heroes, are you guys reading this?) The makers of Dhoni’s biopic have done the right thing by releasing it in Tamil and promoted it well too. Haven’t you seen Dhoni and Sushant pose with our superstar?
The film highlights his rags-to-riches story but it also serves as a right inspiration to the many ‘Dhonis’ who are yet untapped in B-tier towns. They should take his example not just in his game but also on how they need to push themselves ahead. Dhoni asks his coach in Ranchi if he can open the match as against the usual players even when he was in high-school!
Like the ‘Madurai-hero’ or ‘mother/sister sentiment’, Tamil cinema can make sports a ‘sentiment’ too. Maybe then, more filmmakers will come forward to make movies in this genre.