Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bollywood and sports, any equations?

Shahrukh Bhaiya’s Chak De India has once again brought about union of two diverse, yet equally popular, fields - films and sports. But here’s where one would like to critically asses how well do the two gel together – like bread and butter or like milk and lemon? Especially when we speak of mainstream Bollywood movies, this question gains importance as there are only a handful of films that have been centered on sports or have at least, a remote backdrop of sports. Lagaan, Iqbaal, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and of course, Chak De India are notable amongst examples of films belonging to the genre of sports films.

Indeed, Bollywood doesn’t have a history of producing grand amalgamations of cinema and sports. This is so even though tales of sports and sports personalities can make profound impact on mindsets of people. Of course, Bollywood tries to explain by giving twin reasons of failure at box office and the faint sounds of cash registers. Well, that is true as traditionally Indians have never seen too much beyond cricket and at best, some hockey and tennis. Also, cycling, swimming, skating, chess, gymnastics and athletics were usually not seen in same light as the sports which require teams.

In fact, it is fairly recent (about ten years only) that people are waking up to other western sports like football, basketball, auto racing, horse racing, ice hockey and even, bull fighting (animal lovers may flay me for calling this a sport!!). People are now growing open to understand and enjoying portrayal of ‘unconventional’ or newer sports on the silver screen. Moreover, innovative marketing strategies based on regional population and/or non-promotion of movies as specifically as ‘sports movie’ in spite of central focus on sport in the film are helping people enter cinema halls without pre-conceived notions, and absorb the contents more liberally.

But then after all, most sports tales are all about triumph and saga of struggle that went into the making of that triumph. And almost every human mind is appreciative of this. And there isn’t a better medium as yet than Bollywood to take them to the masses. Of course, in turn the cycle continues to push up the number of people who understand the values of getting into sports and appreciating as well as understanding them. And it is undeniable that Bollywood has moved ahead of mere lip-service to games i.e. of showing actors playing rugby or badminton or swimming or ice-skating during brief sequences in films. As proof, besides wholesome sports-based entertainers like Lagaan and the other films mentioned in the beginning, Tara Rum Pum and Apne too have tried to focus on sports of F1 racing and boxing respectively. Yet-to-be released Goal will see John Abraham and Arshad Warsi pull up their socks on the football ground.

However, production of a memorable full fledged film akin to Hollywood flicks like Rocky or Karate Kid is still a faraway dream in Bollywood, considering there is still some fear among producers to dedicate a whole movie, say to narrate the story of PT Usha or maybe, Dhyaan Chand. This is why until sports and games in general becomes a part of the national ethos; films based on any sport will be viewed as ‘distinct’, ‘different’ and ‘path-breaking’. Speaking of sports becoming a part of national ethos, one may like to pinpoint here that we really lack efficient players even though there are sufficient number of them. The reasons are many – poverty, bias, nepotism, favoritism to other sports, no trainers, facilities and their costs, less media hype, lack of sponsors, etc. Once this changes Bollywood will rise more confidently to showcase India’s prowess in sports to the world unlike today. At the same time, Bollywood must realize that blind attempts to cash in on some momentary trends do not pay off. Look at the fate of Stumped and Hattrick that failed miserably.

As conclusion, as of now, we have to be satisfied with the few, but brilliantly crafted movies like Lagaan and Chak De India. And as for the question of Bollywood and sports going together, we hope it only to grow stronger in coming times.


P.S. Before you start wondering why is Bend it Like Beckham not mentioned anywhere in the above piece, it surely isn’t a product from the Bollywood stable, is it? :-)

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