As I sit down for a screening of Sachin: A Billion Dreams, the biopic on cricket icon and ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar I am reminded of the film’s director James Erskine’s words: “It is quite a responsibility to make (this) film for a global audience. We tried to make a film for each and every member of the audience.”
What the audience will start off seeing, is a little boy, full of mischief and energy, who loves to play. Given a chance, he’d always prefer to be outdoors instead of cooped up at home.
This is the young Sachin, and these are the humble beginnings of a legend.
As soon as the film starts, there are certain moments that will strike an emotional chord. There’s the time he gets a bat from Kashmir, as a gift from his sister — the expression of happiness on his face is infectious.
Then there’s the time Sachin’s elder brother Ajit Tendulkar takes him to the legendary coach Ramakant Achrekar. On the field, the very first ball Sachin faces, destroys his stumps. Ajit tries to reason with Achrekar that Sachin will pick up the correct techniques — and then comes the straight drive that was to become Tendulkar’s signature move in the years to come. Impressed, Achekar asks of Ajit: ‘Naam kya bataya tumhare bhai ka?’
And as if on cue, celebrated commentator Tony Greig announces in his inimitable voice: ‘Sachin Tendulkar’!
Sachin: A Billion Dreams film charts facets of the legend’s life that few would have known, given that Tendulkar has been pretty guarded about his life so far. The choice of the child actor playing Sachin is another point in the film’s favour. You won’t be able to tell him apart from the real Sachin (at that age). The story till this point, manages to capture all the trials, tribulations, hopes and desires of a boy from a middle-class family — a boy fired by India’s 1983 World Cup triumph, to repeat the feat for his country.
The choice of real visuals from matches adds to the credibility of the viewing experience of Sachin: A Billion Dreams.
For instance, you get goosebumps when you see the menacing Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis charging at Sachin on the field, during a match. It’s awe-inspiring to see Sachin get hit on the nose by a nasty Younis bouncer, but gamely carrying on. ‘I could not let my country down and leave the crease,’ Sachin says at the time.
This isn’t just the story of a sporting icon though. There are several flashback scenes in the film, set in the ’90s, that remind you of a time when the country was facing all sorts of issues. One young Mumbaikar became a symbol of hope for millions of Indians.
But… can the hope of so many sometimes become a burden? This is the question you’ll find yourself pondering as the debacle at Eden gardens, in the 1996 World Cup semi-final, is depicted. India’s capitulation after Sachin got out was symptomatic of the over reliance on Tendulkar.
Sachin narrates the events of his life with unbelievable frankness. He shares the utter disappointment he felt on being removed as the captain. His conviction comes through when he says that the captaincy can be taken away from him — but not cricket.
Next up is a bout of absolute cricket nostalgia as we see India’s battle with Australia and a match up with spin wizard Shane Warne: Visuals of an epic battle from that high voltage series in 1997-98 have punches and counter punches that make for a sumptuous treat.
The biggest moment of all comes when Don Bradman compares Sachin with himself!
Inevitably references to ‘Desert Storm’ and the innings against Pakistan in the Chennai Test in 1999 come up. But what makes the film stand out apart from the pieces of cricketing brilliance, is the way Sachin’s relationship with his wife Anjali is depicted. Right from their first meeting, to Anjali giving up on her medical career to support her husband, and how she stood by him through thick and thin — the relationship is shown with a lot of sensitivity.
You’ll have a lump in your throat as Sachin speaks of his father’s death, news of which he got while he was with the Indian team for the World Cup in England in 1999.
Sachin returned to England after attending his father’s last rites and hit a hundred straight away. By his own admission, it was his mother who goaded him to return and play for the country as that was what his father would have wanted. Sachin’s strength of character in such a difficult time inspires utter respect. There is a pin drop silence in the theatre as we break for intermission!
Post-interval, the film resumes with the birth of Sachin and Anjali Tendulkar’s son, Arjun. We see Sachin working hard on his son to make him a hardened cricketer. The Tendulkar family believes that Sachin’s father has returned in a new incarnation, in Arjun.
From this domestic scene, we move on to one of the most difficult times in Sachin’s career — when he was made captain for the second time. And then comes one of the murkiest times in Indian cricket history… The match fixing saga is at its peak. Every cricket playing nation is being investigated and fans’ anger is threatening to boil over. Sachin is utterly disappointed and angered by it all. In these dark, hard times, we see Sachin perhaps find some solace in the company of his friends. We also get to see his love for fast cars.
Beyond these troubled times, the new millennium brings hope in the form of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and of course, Sachin. The mighty Australians come here for a tour, and it is the turning point for Indian cricket. India gets hammered in the first match and has its back back to the wall in the second match, but then Eden Gardens is witness to an unbelievable comeback — and possibly the match of the century. Sachin slams a century in the next match and India pockets the series!
The 2002 Natwest Trophy win gives you goosebumps again — Ganguly taking his shirt off and twirling in the air brought out the whistles from the people assembled in the theatre! The fast-paced music adds to the atmosphere wonderfully. Composed by AR Rahman, the music perfectly befits each scene.
The film captures the minutest aspects of Sachin’s life in fantastic detail. The difficult periods of his life are portrayed with a lot of sensitivity, and the story-telling is at all times, crisp and articulate. It is also shorn of the dramatisation that is usual for a typical Bollywood film — its USP lies in being a story told straight from the heart. However, I feel a bit of dramatisation would not have done the film any harm, but would have made a lasting impression on the minds of the audience. Without that, the film looks just a bit like a recollection of events more than a story in the real sense of the term. And that is possibly the only miss the film had, but other than that it has all the makings of a superhit.
The pressure of expectation on the great man is well known, but what the film does is make it all so real. You might think of Sachin as a ‘Cricket God’ and a superhero, but he has had all the vulnerabilities that any of us have, and the film brings all of that out with a great deal of maturity.
From being the hope of a struggling nation, to the emblem of a country ready to take on the world, Sachin has traversed a long, arduous path. And from his first 200 in an ODI to the World Cup win in 2011, the film takes you on a fairytale ride with Sachin. Sachin had started his career at Mumbai and won the World Cup in the city itself. You see life coming full circle for him; from boy-next-door to God of cricket.
You tear up again, when the time comes for his retirement at an emotional Wankhede. There would not have been a soul in the stadium that day or any Sachin fan anywhere who would have been able to control his/her emotions.
The film, however, looks a safety first exercise. Sachin has never been a Shoaib Akhtar whose book itself would be called ‘Controversially Yours’. He has avoided controversies throughout his career and care has been taken in the biopic to not ruffle feathers. No reference is made, therefore, to how he felt when Rahul Dravid declared the innings against Pakistan at Multan in 2004 with Sachin just six runs away from a Test double century.
As a viewer, you’ll be enchanted at the way this film catches the numerous moments that made Sachin a legend. Couple that with the ‘Saaachin Saaachin’ chants and peppy music in the background — and Sachin: A Billion Dreams is an evening well spent at the theatre.