(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
Last year, we had the very entertaining hagiography of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the form of his biopic from Neeraj Pandey, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. There may be many untold stories about Dhoni but hardly anything made it to the film. But are there any untold stories about Sachin? Almost three decades later, can one even write about Sachin Tendulkar avoiding the minefields of cliche and pitfalls of repetition? Many generations grew up with him. Some became men from boys. Some transitioned from midlife crisis to post retirement stupor. Other sports switched from one generation to another and the fans had new favorites to supplant the older ones. Why other sports, other cricket teams and nations did. Look at me trying in vain to avoid the very minefields. The very pitfalls. I am a mess.
But you are a mess even before the film begins to say anything new. A lot of Sachin Tendulkar’s home video dominates James Erskine’s Sachin: A Billion Dreams. It begins with Sachin Tendulkar, everyone’s wonder boy cricketer, becoming a father for the first time and fondly remembering his own father’s life lessons. Sachin has always had an invisible shield around him (and the very visible bodyguards and contingent of family and agents) that has helped him create the aura of invincibility, a preciously nurtured public image. So, it’s nice change up to see Sachin who is unguarded, who is relaxed in the comfort of his home, saying and doing everyday things like playing with his kids, being dorky with his daughter or doing funny voices. It’s like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos but only you are watching India’s Golden Boy Is Just Like You, and the room is full of smiles and wet eyes.
Sachin is so entrenched in the nation’s collective consciousness that where I would have referred to an actress, actor or director by their last name, here, the first name says it all. He is always Sachin. Always cheered twice. The first time with a long drawl on the second syllable followed by a quick repeat thump like Sachin’s straight drive. In my review of MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, I wrote – No one since Sachin had enraptured the zeitgeist quite the way Dhoni did. Which maybe why a film on Dhoni – while feeling queasy because it has crept up on you quickly and suddenly like Dhoni’s batting – also makes sense. Sachin may have been the enabler. Dhoni is the dream weaver. The enabler is probably better suited in a long drawn out documentary. Dhoni’s story, the small town boy making it to the annals of the game is the stuff made for glitzy garlands, first day first shows, dancing and chest-thumping in the aisles. Today we have that long drawn out documentary that doesn’t even try because it doesn’t have to. It rides the Sachin wave, the way everyone did for more than two decades. Erskine puts together a family of actors representing Sachin’s that might remind you of families and neighborhoods from 90s TV commercials. The loving parents, the siblings straight out of Barjatya films, the woman yelling about broken windows, rubber balls and SD Burman songs on the radio. And then, Sachin’s sister gifting him his first cricket bat. It’s a highlight reel that holds a remote control for your goosebumps. Achrekar and Sivaji Park. Debut in Pakistan. Bleeding nose and Miandad. Perth. The romance between the cricketer and the doctor. The transition from the now drab sounding Doordarshan to Star TV. Mark Mascarenhas, a young Tom Alter and Prannoy Roy, even younger Rajdeep Sardesai. It’s nostalgia of the good kind, from everyone’s childhood and adolescence, a time capsule when Sachin represented the good things in life, people had clean heroes, perceptions were black or white, and a pre-Internet, pre-social media era, when we did not have to reconcile our feelings about a legend every time an uncomfortable fact about their life is unearthed or when there is a small misstep on their part.
But what happens when the goosebumps wear off? When you see and hear Sachin narrating his feelings about the low points in his life. (Captaincy. Injuries. Greg Chappell. You thought match fixing? Get out of here!) When there is some acting and showboating involved. That’s when you really wish this was a biopic with qualified actors playing parts. Or that it could have done with a better documentary filmmaker. A.R Rahman makes the songs work (there is something to be said about an icon from that era with a carefully nurtured public image scoring the music for another) during the high points but some instrumental score choices are downright embarrassing. Sachin: A Billion Dreams is far from an adequate documentary. You sell out big screens and play Sachin’s greatest hits from YouTube and that might have 80% of the same effect. The remaining 20% goes to the home video. Found footage has never been this welcome and adorable. Sachin: A Billion Dreams is that unabashed in worshiping its subject. The only question is, aren’t we all?