Adverse effect of a reverse sweep

Adverse effect of a reverse sweep

Acting, like cricket, is a highly demanding full-time profession. So, the audience perceives these ‘switch-hits’ as mere off-season indulgences.

Somehow Baloo Gupte (a senior Bombay cricketer) got wind of the fact that I could do a fair mimicry of film star Dev Anand…”, a cricketing legend shared in his autobiography. Five years later, by which time the youngster had established himself as one of the best batsmen in the world, he bagged a role in the Marathi film Savli Premachi, making Sunil Gavaskar arguably the first Indian cricketer after Salim Durani in Charitra (1973) to enter films. A few others followed suit down the decades and the recent buzz that Shikhar Dhawan would be starring in Amir Khan’s project Sitare Zameen Par added to the list of international cricketers chasing the wide ball.

But their track record in Bollywood has been like a batting collapse. Durani, Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Syed Kirmani, Ajay Jadeja, Vinod Kambli were not able to build momentum. But then why would we expect a good cricketer to be successful in films as well? Especially when even trained actors and FTII toppers struggle to get the right break?

Acting, like cricket, is a highly demanding full-time profession. So, the audience perceives these ‘switch-hits’ as mere off-season indulgences. Therefore, unless the movie rises above the clutter why would someone spend money to watch a part-time actor? In fact, given India’s emotional investment in cricket, a cricketer spending time on things apart from cricket raises doubts about his commitment to the game.

Sandeep Patil, burdened with a pre-existing perception of not being a hard-working cricketer, may have been a victim of this negative sentiment when Kabhi Ajnabee The released in 1985. True or not, Patil’s plummeting batting form might have been attributed to this distraction.

Also, when a cricketer enters tinsel town post his retirement, he is lagging other debutants in age by 8-12 years. Durani was pushing 40 in Charitra. Jadeja was 32 when he debuted as the male lead in Khel. His cherubic face notwithstanding, his shallow voice and inability to emote caught him plumb in front. Interestingly, a rare exception has been a non-Indian—retired Pakistani batter Mohsin Khan who played DSP Rajender Singh in Batwara (1989). Not only was it a major box office success, Mohsin’s performance was appreciated well enough for him to win a Filmfare nomination. Mohsin followed this up with another blockbuster, Saathi (1991).

Effective pinch hitters get promoted up the batting order. But not in Bollywood. Actors like Shetty, Mac Mohan, Mohan Sherry, Bob Christo kept playing the ‘yes boss-ok boss’ sidekick roles all their lives without graduating to playing the kingpin. And this is why Kambli’s brief role of Bandya, the big don’s flunkey in Annarth (2002), was unlikely to sail into the stands.

Cricketers playing themselves seems to yield better results. Gavaskar’s cameo as in Malamaal (1987) with his witty exchanges with Naseeruddin Shah looked refreshing, while Jadeja looked authentic playing a cricket commentator in Kai Po Che (2013). As did Shikhar Dhawan playing himself in Double XL (2022).

The spectators’ advice to the cricketers seems to be: ‘Stick to your position in the batting order’. Maybe Dhawan heard them. He recently denied that he was acting in Sitare Zameen Par.

Balaji Vittal

Film commentator and author

Posts on X: @vittalbalaji

The New Indian Express