As I walked out of the cinema hall after watching Sachin: A Billion Dreams, I wondered: Would I have thought differently of this biopic had I not known anything about the person it is based on? James Erskine’s documentary on one of the most celebrated cricketers in the world – one who has achieved a near-deific status in India – went along expected lines.
But was that because I, like many Indians and cricket followers around the world, already knew so much about Sachin Tendulkar? How would someone living under a rock for the last quarter of a century, and did not know who Tendulkar was, have liked it?
Sachin: A Billion Dreams starts off rather nicely, showing us a naughty curly-haired boy of seven or eight years living in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb, getting up to the usual seven-or-eight-year-old boy things like annoying his neighbours with pranks. The boy then receives a cricket bat as a gift from his elder sister, and this is where the story that most Indians and cricket followers already know begins.
This wasn’t the first time I was watching the celluloid adaptation of a story I already knew. I wasn’t, of course, expecting any suspense or plot twists, but I have been far more entertained by some of those other movies where I already knew what was going to happen, than I was by Sachin: A Billion Dreams. Maybe our man under the rock might think differently, but then a story still needs to be told properly, completely and honestly, and this is where Erskine’s attempt is found lacking.
The same old path
Sachin: A Billion Dreams goes down the same path as the two other biopics on Indian cricketers that were released in the last year – MS Dhoni: An Untold Story, and Azhar. The only difference is that Sachin is a documentary which features the cricketer himself – he is not played by actors. Obviously backed by Tendulkar, just like the two other biopics were supported by the cricketers they were based on, Sachin: A Billion Dreams is a glorified account of an already over-glorified celebrity.
All in all, this biopic is a celluloid version of Tendulkar’s autobiography, Playing It My Way. What was one of the most awaited sports autobiographies of all time, the book turned out to be a damp squib. It just about managed to tell you a few stories you did not already know about India’s most popular cricketer, it briefly touched upon his personal relationships with his family and friends, but otherwise read like a recital of scorecards of the matches he played, and refrained from going too deep into controversial subjects.
Like it does his 24-year playing career, the biopic also brushes past the controversies Tendulkar has been through. The biggest one, the 2000 match-fixing scandal, is dismissed in a couple of minutes, with Tendulkar questioning those who asked him to speak up about it, by saying, “If I knew something, I would speak up.” It is quite probable that he did not know what his teammates were up to, but does that mean he did not have an opinion on it? He does not even mention who the cricketers were, even though it is public knowledge.
Tendulkar has been so overtly politically correct throughout his public life that is was quite surprising to see him criticise the Indian cricket board in the movie for the way it handled his captaincy. “You can take my captaincy away, but you can’t take cricket away from me,” he says, adding to the many fluffy quotes dished out throughout the movie, not just by him but also some others who have been interviewed. Among the sappiest was commentator Harsha Bhogle saying something along the lines of: Sunil Gavaskar came from a fixed-deposit generation, but Sachin’s generation believed in investing in equity.
The two individuals who have been singled out for some criticism in the movie are former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, and Greg Chappell, who had a rather forgettable tenure as India coach. But then, Tendulkar had always made his views on Chappell clear much before the movie was released. Azharuddin, on the other hand, was criticised not for his embroilment in the match-fixing scandal, but because Tendulkar felt the Hyderabadi did not take his being appointed captain too well.
That’s it as far as controversies are concerned. What about the time when Rahul Dravid declared India’s innings in a Test match when Tendulkar was batting on 194? The incident does not find a mention in the movie. In fact, Dravid is conspicuous in his absence from the documentary altogether, apart from a few highlights clips, including the historic India-Australia Test at Eden Gardens in 2001. While former and current players such as Sourav Ganguly, Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni have been interviewed, Dravid’s presence has been restricted to few match clips.
Other notable omissions are the Monkeygate controversy, the ball-tampering episode, and the Ferrari customs duty case. Throughout his career and after he retired, Tendulkar never touched a controversial topic with a pole, but for the couple of instances mentioned earlier, so this was again hardly surprising.
Like his book, Tendulkar’s biopic is a nostalgic cruise through his career, from the time he received his first cricket bat as a kid to the day he retired. His fanboys, the ones who reply to each of his tweets with “God”, are bound to love it and even get goosebumps when the chants of “Sachin...Sachin!” reverberate to the tune of Oscar winner AR Rahman’s background score. Erskine tries his best to produce a tear-jerker, especially towards the end, but I would be surprised if even our man under the rock finds this documentary interesting or moving.