Life is about who you are and what you achieve, says the hero of Kaun Pravin Tambe? The question mark in the title refers to Tambe’s struggle on both counts.

Jayprad Desai’s film, which is out on Disney+ Hotstar, is based on the real-life experiences of Pravin Tambe, the cricketer who made his debut in the Indian Premier League at the ripe old age of 41. Kiran Yadnyopavit’s screenplay depicts Tambe (Shreyas Talpade) as an unassuming and unlikely achiever who overcomes financial constraints, self-doubt and derision to follow his dreams.

Pravin’s only ambition is to qualify for the Ranji Trophy. Despite balancing unengaging jobs with long hours of practice, the all-rounder is stuck with representing his company in Times Cricket Shield tournaments.

The trophies and mixer-grinders pile up, as do the years. Pravin is taking wickets and scoring runs well into his thirties. Opportunities present themselves, only to vanish. Pravin’s cause isn’t helped by his plain-speaking manner and inability to schmooze with the powers-that-be.

Ranji selectors admire Pravin’s talent but baulk at his age. Pravin’s wife Vaishali (Anjali Patil) despairs of his monomania. Coach Vidyadhar (Ashish Vidyarthi) tells Pravin to bowl differently for better results. The arrogant sports journalist Rajat Sanyal (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) dismisses Pravin as a gully cricketer who is unsuited for the big league.

Kaun Pravin Tambe? (2022).

Apart from fleshing out Tambe’s endearing personality and can-do spirit, Kiran Yadnyopavit’s screenplay has satisfying lashings of humour. Some of the best moments are of Pravin winning hyperlocal events and earning the admiration of female fans.

Jayprad Desai, whose previous works include the Marathi film Nagrik and the web series Hutatma, steers the journey from underdog to superdog through Mumbai’s chawls and maidans. The film gives a very real sense of cricket as it is played away from flood-lot stadia and glitzy IPL matches. Also revealed is the important role of private companies in employing athletes and allowing them to balance a sport with a regular income.

Cricket is the only constant for Pravin as he lurches from one job to the next to survive. From working as a supervisor with a construction company to waiting tables at a bar, Pravin does whatever it takes to stay in the game. Lead actor Shreyas Talpade, whose credits include Nagesh Kukunoor’s cricket-themed Iqbal (2005), immerses himself into his character. Talpade movingly plays the athlete who perseveres, like the spider encountered by the Scottish king Robert the Bruce.

Kaun Pravin Tambe? is modest in its narrative style, but not in its length. In an attempt to provide a rounded portrait, the 133-minute film devotes several scenes to the Tambe family dynamic. There’s also a sequence too many of Pravin’s struggles.

As slow-burning as Pravin Tambe’s feat at times, the biopic nevertheless works as an ode to thinking small and scoring big. Pravin’s idea of a honeymoon is to travel as far as Dhapoli, a little over 200 km from Mumbai.

What followed is the stuff of legend. If Pravin Tambe didn’t exist, we would have had to invent him.