Fact and fiction, the personal and the political, and the individual and the collective come together in Abhinay Deo’s Doosra. The upcoming docufiction film relives the Indian cricket team’s win against England in the finals of the 2002 NatWest Series through the eyes of a young woman growing up in a small town.

On July 13 that year, India beat its former colonisers on their home ground after a nail-biting match. The moment was equal parts victory and vindication and was immortalised when the euphoric Indian captain Sourav Ganguly took off his shirt and waved it in the air. In Doosra, the event is treated as a turning point not just for Indian cricket but the nation as a whole, birthing a more aggressive and aspirational society freed from the psychological impact of Western domination.

The film examines this transition through Tara (Plabita Borthakur), a girl from an orthodox household in Jodhpur who starts to rebel against patriarchal norms. Doosra braids together documentary and fiction. Tara’s story is interwoven with footage from the 2002 match and interviews about what the victory meant for India with prominent personalities, including cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle, Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.

The cast includes Ankur Vikal, Samidha Guru and Tvisha Seema. The film is in the final stages of post-production and will be ready for release in a few months.

“The documentary about the significance of the 2002 match runs parallel to the fiction story,” Deo explained. “They go hand-in-hand, and you travel seamlessly between the girl’s story, the interviews and the old footage. It’s a first-of-it’s-kind genre. We have used almost every form of filmmaking available to us.”

Doosra (2019).

The seed of Doosra was sown when Chicago-based management professional Rohan Sajdeh, who used to play domestic cricket for England, approached Deo with an idea for a film about the legacy of the 2002 match. Deo, an advertising veteran, roped in his friend, Agnello Dias, to write the screenplay.

The pair decided to add a fictional element to the story through Tara. “A country is made of its people, and the people and their attitudes started changing [after 2002], so we decided to show this change via the protagonist,” Deo said. “It’s a story about the emancipation of a country, of a girl and of cricket.”

Doosra is set between 1991 and 2002, and has for a backdrop the shift in government policy from a mix of socialism and capitalism to a market-led economy. “This was also the decade when Sourav Ganguly debuted in international cricket,” Deo said. “It was a time when India had been almost written off internationally because of its economic crisis. From there, we have done a U-turn, and hence the name Doosra.”

A bulk of Doosra was shot on celluloid to recreate the look and feel of the 1990s. “At that time, everything was shot on film so I wanted to remain authentic to that era,” Deo explained. “The grain and texture of film is very different from digital. The film was mostly shot in Jodhpur, with some portions set in Mumbai and London.

Abhinay Deo.

Deo ranks Doosra as his most challenging project yet. “The film is about a time and period in the life of a country where we were on the cusp of change,” he said. “It’s about a game which is more than 125 years old. And then it’s also about the life of one person who stands as the flag-bearer of the country. Bringing all of this together and make it into a concise story was very difficult.”

Deo’s credits include Game (2011), Force 2 (2016), Blackmail (2018) and the Indian adaptation of the American television series 24. He is best known for his debut film Delhi Belly (2011), a comedy about three friends who get their hands on a consignment of diamonds.

Delhi Belly meant everything to me because it was the first feature film I ever shot, and it will always have special importance in my life,” Deo recalled. “That was my journey to doing different stuff and it kind of shaped what I do. I still like to push the envelope, I still like to tell different stories and in a different way, and I will continue to do that.”

Delhi Belly (2011).

The year 2020 will see the release of another film based on India’s cricketing history – Kabir Khan’s 83, which recreates India’s first ever World Cup win in 1983. The film stars Ranveer Singh as team captain Kapil Dev. Where there any anxieties about announcing a cricket drama at a time when 83 has already begin its promotional campaign?

“What Kabir is doing is very different,” Deo said. “He’s recreating one historic moment for Indian cricket. I’m talking about a completely different event. So there is no anxiety, because these are two very different points of view.”

Highlights of the England versus India NatWest Series Final 2002.