A biopic on India’s only double badminton Olympic medallist, P V Sindhu, is in the works. Aggressive on court, smiling her way through life, the tall and lean shuttler is a champion of the highest class. The actor stepping into Sindhu’s shoes will realise that simulating a sporting performer is more difficult than imagined.
Deepika Padukone, daughter of world number one and legendary Prakash Padukone, is being tipped to play the lead role. The player and the actor are badminton buddies, so exciting times ahead.
Sport is theatre of a different kind, drama in sporting action keeps people hooked. Two worlds contrasting in some ways, yet the similarities in sport and movies are striking. Performers and performances keep the interest alive, the audience is attracted towards the visual effect. There is a script in place, yet the artist is allowed the licence to explore. The movie industry has long been fascinated by unique achievers in sport.
The cameras have followed performers with special qualities, trying to understand reasons driving fan following bordering on hysteria.
Athletes at the peak of physical, mental faculties became the storyline. Performances ranged from incredible and imaginative, incredulous at times, mostly inspiring. Newsmakers from different sporting generations opened a window into their lives.
Sindhu is the second active performer in the news about a biopic. MS Dhoni, currently leading CSK in IPL 2021, is an enigmatic character with a movie on his life out when still competing internationally.
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Sushant Singh Rajput got the India captain’s role in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. Five years after the biopic’s release, the player kept wickets at the 2019 World Cup. The script for a sequel is taking shape, he is India mentor at 2021 T20 World Cup.
The film industry in India drew inspiration from dramatic happenings, to craft movies titled Gold, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Mary Kom, Soorma, and Saina to name a few recent ones. Real-life happenings told the story, varied themes were experimented with and presented as a package of action, emotion, entertainment, and history in the making. Big production houses stepped into the ring, invested in research on the sportsperson and on recreating scenes.
Grandparents had grown up reading about the exploits of Balbir Singh Senior in hockey, Milkha Singh in track & field, the younger generations became aware of these legends via moving pictures when Gold, Bhag Milkha Bhag was released. Their real-life incidents in black and white, chiefly on the Olympic stage, got transformed into multi-colour on the big screen. The two Singhs enjoyed a slice of fame when the biopics were shown.
Biopics on world champion boxer Mary Kom, hockey drag-flicker Sandeep Singh (Soorma), shuttler Sania Nehwal (Sania), wrestlers Geeta Phogat, Babita Kumari (Dangal) conveyed the joy and sacrifices in sport to a new audience. Past legends with unique stories to tell, current sensations with well-documented career highs can be potential movie scripts in the future. Sharpshooter Abhinav Bindra’s thirst for perfection may find an audience.
PT Usha’s stride into Asian athletic history at Jakarta, the 1984 LA Olympics 400m hurdles race, and ongoing academy work has ups, downs, and ups to trigger audience interest. A movie on hockey maestro Dhyanchand is being planned. A curious Adolf Hitler watching his stick work from his VIP box at the 1936 Berlin Olympics will be a visual treat. Indian hockey achievers have so many and so many unique stories to tell, a hockey film festival is possible.
Movies scripted around sporting incidents gained acceptance. Chak de India for example, focusses on a women’s hockey coach trying to redeem himself in his own eyes and in society. The parallel in real life is an ex-India goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi from the 1982 Asian Games squad, reuniting with the sport later as one of the national team coaches.
Toofan attempted to convey a boxer’s struggle in life, Iqbal dwelt on a kid’s cricket aspirations.
Sultan, Saand Ki Aakh were movies, weaving wrestling and shooting respectively into the storyline. Famous faces ready to face the camera got the opportunities. Character actors came under the spotlight.
Sunny Kaushal (chosen for the character based on hockey center-forward Balbir Singh from the 1948 London Olympics squad), Farhan Akhtar (muscle and mettle gained to play Milkha Singh) slipped into their roles, acted in Toofan also.
Priyanka Chopra worked out to develop Mary Kom’s chiseled physique.
Two other biopics, based on incidents from the life of Sania Nehwal (played by Parineeti Chopra) and Sandeep Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) offered unique insights. Irrfan Khan’s role of an athlete-cum-soldier-turned dacoit in Paan Singh Tomar earned him the National Film Award for Best Actor and Best Feature Film.
Dangal, a box-office hit, was based on the hurdles faced by wrestling Coach Mahavir Singh Phogat from Haryana to train daughters in wrestling. India’s first wrestling medal winner in women’s freestyle, Geeta Phogat (2010 Commonwealth Games), fellow international Babita Kumari, also a Commonwealth medallist in 2014, are the central characters. Producer-actor Amir Khan played coach Phogat’s role, the film songs were popular, like the Chak de tunes.
Famous sportspersons dipping their feet into movies is another trend, as directors tapped into their celebrity status. Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Syed Kirmani (teammates on the 1983 World Cup squad) appeared on the big screen. Gavaskar, Patil played the hero in Saavli Premachi (Marathi movie), Kabhi Ajnabi The (Hindi) respectively.
Kirmani was part of the cast for Kabhi Ajnabi The, besides roles in Deadly-2 (Kannada), Mazhavillinattam Vare (Malayalam) films.
Tennis ace Vijay Amritraj was chosen for the James Bond film, Octopussy, alongside Roger Moore in the star role and playing the character of MI6 ally from India, named Vijay. Olympics tennis medallist and doubles specialist, Leander Paes, acted in Rajdhani Express, playing a man on the run from a gun-running godfather. India captain and football ace, IM Vijayan, stretched the surprise element further by exploring acting after retirement.
Starting his entry with Shantham (silence in Malayalam), the goal-scoring machine accepted dark roles. A movie about political violence, Shantham won the Best Feature film award at the 48th National Film Awards in 2001. Vijayan appeared in Malayalam and Tamil films in unusual roles, his latest appearance is about Kurumba tribe engaged in bee-keeping. Named Mmmmm (sound of pain), the 2021 film saw the striker, nicknamed Kaloharin (black buck) by football-crazy football fans in Kolkata earlier in playing days, getting on screen presence.
A movie worth waiting for is 83, based on India’s first ICC World Cup triumph under Kapi Dev, played by Ranveer Singh. Players on the 1983 squad became household names— from maverick opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth, languid all-rounder Mohinder Amarnath to Balwinder Singh Sandhu, called the Sardar of Swing after deceiving West Indies opener Gordon Greenidge in the final.
The pandemic delayed the cricket movie release, expected to be screened by this year’s end. As the sporting world emerges from a shadow cast by corona, overcoming travel restrictions, performing in huge empty stadiums, new Indian faces emerge at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the Paralympics. Reality shows got off the blocks first, the medallists related their unique stories. Movies may follow, going by the buzz around the nation.