Goosebumps. Every now and then. For 138 minutes.
The first time it happened was when Navjot Singh Sidhu retold the story of the squeaky voice, saying main khelega after his batting partner’s nose had been smashed by Waqar Younis. The little boy – a very little boy – then went on to hit the trio of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar all around for a half-century in that Sialkot Test of 1989.
I had watched it at the time, on Doordarshan, and more than once since. And then in James Erskine’s Sachin: A Billion Dreams this last weekend. And it was almost like watching it for the first time again. All. Over. Again.
So many Indians have seen pretty much every single moment Sachin Tendulkar spent on the cricket field for close to a quarter of a century. The cricket obsessives among us are sure to have also read the tomes written about the man over the years, the autobiography that came out last year, and can rattle off every statistic about arguably the greatest cricketer to have come out of these shores. One of these nuts is in the movie too, reeling off His Master’s Numbers. To that knowledge, the film will add practically nothing that is new.
Let’s get it out of the way: Almost nothing about Tendulkar the cricketer in Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a revelation.
It’s a highlights reel of the big moments – happy and not so – in his life and career, the ones that the man himself is willing to talk about. Indeed, Tendulkar actually narrates the story as it unravels. We have also heard practically everything his peers – cricketers and commentators, like Harsha Bhogle and Gideon Haigh, two of the finest – have to say about him, and Tony Greig’s screeches remain fresh in the memory.
But still… But still, the movie grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. Exactly the same way that Tendulkar strolled into the collective imagination of hundreds of thousands of people in the late 1980s and stayed there till the other day. He clearly still does. Despite MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
Every single time everyone else in the theatre oohed and aahed, so did I – supposedly neutral, maybe even an un-fan, perhaps the most cricket-literate bum in the seats. On occasion, the eyes welled up too.
The goosebumps did not come in the obviously sentimental bits, like returning home from the 1999 World Cup and going back to score a century against Kenya after his father’s death, or the lachrymose lines he reads out – quite well, to be fair – when describing his pain at this defeat or that, the shattering of one dream or the other, or even of the physical pains that were a constant in his long and decorated career.
Those are easy to gloss over, even when they grate. There’s always action just around the corner.
Rarely, if ever, has a film been made where every member of the audience knows every single turn of the ‘script’, but rises and falls with the wave willingly.
An aside: The two biggest cheers came during ‘scenes’ not really involving Tendulkar: 1. Sourav Ganguly’s bare-torsoed t-shirt whirl at Lord’s, and 2. Dhoni’s six to win India the 2011 World Cup.
But once I got past reliving all those moments – the straight drives and pulls, Desert Storm, Bridgetown 1997, Chennai 1999, Final Frontier 2001, that six off Shoaib Akhtar, Tendulkar v Warne, the 2011 World Cup, the Wankhede sign-off – it was all the home videos and footage that stayed with me. [No mention of Australia 2003-2004, by the way. Or did I zone off there? Interestingly, Rahul Dravid hardly features in the narrative.]
Almost as if the Tendulkars had planned for this very eventuality – the biopic – so much of their life has been videographed. The footage is priceless: Of his parents and his siblings, of Anjali and Sachin, of their children Sara and Arjun … There are candid chunks of Sachin fooling around with the kids, being a father and a husband, little stories. Of Tendulkar training in the Mumbai rain before the last splash – the 2011 World Cup.
I was even okay with the recreations at the beginning of the film, which zoom through the early years. That’s also the only bit where a young boy playing Vinod Kambli appears (all ill-will has been ignored, of course).
The best part for the cricket lover, however, was the stuff from the dressing room, boys being boys, celebrating and sinking into gloom, joking about and with each other … and Gary Kirsten’s little speech after India’s win in the 2011 World Cup semifinal to keep the jubilant boys grounded.
It is a hagiography, completely. One that almost entirely follows the script of the autobiography. But, with Tendulkar himself a part of the film, who expected anything else? This is the master of cricket and political correctness. The hurt he felt at the turn of the century when he was bang in the middle of a game of musical chairs vis-à-vis the captaincy is the only time he opens up. Nice. But then, most of the protagonists of the time are gone or are irrelevant.
You don’t expect him to name names when it comes to fixing, or to say much about things that didn’t go to plan. There are hints, yes. That Mohammad Azharuddin was unhappy with Tendulkar taking over the captaincy from him, of the fixing saga, of how the seniors in the team felt about the Greg Chappell years. Not anything that is remotely indicative. That’s not how Tendulkar does it.
Yet, and this is so unfair, it’s still such a good watch. Simply because this forty-plus reporter and cricket fan has grown up with Tendulkar. There are non-cricketing moments in my life that I remember only because they happened on a day that this man did something big or small. Really, this is everyone’s story, in a way, as it is Tendulkar’s.
‘Sach-i-i-i-n, Sachin’, ‘Sach-i-i-i-n, Sachin’ – you know how it goes; you have joined in the chant yourself at some stage. It reverberates through the film, like the chorus in a song. And, all cynicism forgotten, neutrality discarded, you wade in neck deep.
“Time has flown by rather quickly, but the memories you have left with me will always be with me forever and ever, especially ‘Sachin, Sachin’, which will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing,” said Tendulkar to the audience during his farewell speech at the Wankhede.
I suspect it will be the same for many of us. Which will make Sachin: A Billion Dreams a record to remember, and celebrate. All same old, same old, but, much like that straight drive from the heavens, riveting. However many times you might see it.