With 10 seconds on the clock, Arvind Krishna collected the rebound, turned and made his shot. Whish went the leather through the net, and around 70 young men on the court sidelines burst into a loud roar. The cheers had been droning for 10 minutes – they had not stopped when Krishna popped a three-pointer four minutes in. Or when captain Eban Hyams had chest-bumped him after being fouled. Or even when Krishna had missed two shots.
Now though, Krishna tossed himself into the melee of shouting, clamouring fans. Time was up, and the Hyderabad Ballers had edged out the Kolkata Warriors 21-19 in the sixth round of a three by three basketball championship in Mumbai.
Hyderabad were somewhere in the middle of the league standings, but from the presence of the Andhra-Telangana contingent, you would hardly know it. Every third person in the arena was in an “I am an Arvind Fan” T-shirt or had his face plastered on a white flag.
Since when did basketball players in India attract ardent groupies? Probably never. But Krishna isn’t just a baller with a dude army. He is also a Telugu movie star with hit movies against his name.
He shook his head in disbelief as he contemplated the unexpected career paths. “It’s all so haphazard,” he said, after the game. “But it turned out well.” He scanned the room filled with his supporters, an unusual sight for an athlete who isn’t an international player. “It is, it is,” he agreed. Then protested good-humouredly – “But I’m a decent player too.”
Krishna was previously picked for India as a junior and played for Andhra Pradesh and then Telangana in basketball’s usual five-a-side format. Recently, he was a key member of the Hyderabad Ballers, a new team in a new league in the three-a-side format that involves pacier 10-minute, half-court games.
Krishna completed his early schooling in Europe before moving to the United States for high school, where he was the captain of the basketball team. Injuries made him abandon the game between 2003 and 2014, but he returned to it upon moved back to India a few years ago. In the meantime, his film career took off as well – a chance encounter with a director in a mall in Hyderabad landed him his debut film. In 2011, It’s My Love Story released and was a huge hit. This was followed the next year by critically-acclaimed Rushi. As his stature as an actor grew, so did his fan base.
In January, while playing in the nationals, Krishna got a call about the new 3BL, India’s first such league to be recognised by the International Basketball Federation. His matinee idol status had little to do with his selection. “I didn’t know who he was until the second round of the league,” said Rohit Bakshi, the league commissioner.
At 6’2”, the shortest on his team, Krishna is the kind of player who in the faster, pushier version hovers on the edge looking for the long range shots. Given his lean frame, powerful driving or muscular defending isn’t his style. “I have to rely more on quickness, so it makes me a technically sounder player or there is no way I can manage the big guys,” he said. “I rely more on finesse.”
For the self-described geek, the game is as much an intellectual puzzle as it is a physical face-off. “You’ve got to make sure [that] apart from being emotionally balanced, you have the intellect to perceive your motion, your teammates’ motion, the game sense. The more intellectual acumen you have, the more intuitively you can play and read people.” As an entrepreneur, Krishna isn’t even a full-time player, making time in his schedule for basketball and movies. “It’s tough, it’s tough,” he said. “But these two are my passions.”
The basketball and the acting feed off each other. You can tell from the on-court theatrics – the chest bumps, the dancing, and the swagger. And the shooting on court facilitates the shooting on set. “[Basketball] gives you so much confidence,” he said. “What you do on court is from deep within, it’s spontaneous, there is nothing artificial about it. If you can recreate that while shooting, that memory or moment; acting is about triggering your own emotions and experiences to convey a point.”
Ranked 22 on India’s list of three by three basketball players, Krishna isn’t an up-and-coming star. But the 33-year-old brings to the game a tactical acumen, energy, and of course, the spectacle. “He is not the best, but he is a good player,” said Stefan Bujagic, a Slovenian player on the Warriors team. “On court he can do some stuff. But he is a great person. And [the fan base] is good for the league.” When Krishna posted about the scheduled games on his Facebook page, he expected 10 fans to show up – 120 came to Chennai alone (the league went to six cities).
As we spoke, people crowded around to take pictures, to exchange high fives, to offer praise. So how does he primarily see himself, of all the identities he juggles? “Like Tony Stark,” he exclaimed, referring to the comic book superhero. “I’m joking! I would put it this way: Whatever I do in life, my primary objective is to create a large platform for myself which would give me a high potential sphere of influence.”
At present, Krishna, a fan of LA Lakers, is shooting an untitled film in Telugu and Tamil. A couple of films are ready for release in the coming months, and he is in the early stages of developing a basketball-related film with a teammate. His fans though, want him to do more.
Many fans followed him the past few months, attending his matches. In the process they grew fond of the game. “Our hero was playing, that’s why we came,” said P Kotiswamy, president of the Arvind Krishna Fans Association. “Now we enjoy it.”
“I would one day want to take a small part of the credit,” Krishna said, on whether his playing the game has interested spectators in his home state. “I am able to bring in more people to watch. And when you bring in a person who doesn’t know much about the game to come watch, that energy is contagious.”