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Fertile ground without potent takers

I have yet to find a more compelling, liberal source of collective human experience than sports. Perhaps not in quality always but for the sheer volume of content, and potential for inspiration, there’s little to rival it.  

Biased as that might sound (it’s not entirely impossible given my day job as a sports writer), the realisation dawns on me that few avenues have the power to summarise the nuance of human existence, besides human existence itself, as well as sport has, does and will. 

Abject poverty, cultural stigma, deformities, sexism, impossible lows, mind-numbing highs, the occasional sprinkle of drugs, and perhaps even death…. 

It’s all readily available for relatability, and it also helps that a few things in the world we live in are as systematically chronicled as sports. Oh, and then there’s the myriad emotions it evokes and occasionally projects. 

This is precisely why sport — against common rationale — is still relevant to society. 

This is also why filmmakers, and there’s a fairly decent sprinkling of that grungy lot, always have their ears on the ground for the next big sports story they can turn it into a partly ambient tear-jerker with shards of unnecessary romance.

The western world has been fully aware of the symptoms of an atypical fan and their opioid of choice for far longer than one would (should) care to peel back. They have thus ridden the gravy train to considerable success. 

That would explain why the United States in particular releases no less than five sports biopics annually. That trend, it would seem, is largely based on demand. 

The Indian market, on the contrary, isn’t very invested in the biopic space, and some of that has to do with the very nature of the content they have had to stomach for a while now. 

Given how fervent the country is to consume as much cricket content as possible, it’s plenty obvious why filmmakers opt to play up the sport as much as possible. But their execution has largely missed the mark. 

They have often been guilty of injecting hype when there isn’t a need for it, infecting stoic stories with pithy romance, and the less said of the songs the better.

See, one could easily name a few cricket-based movies which are halfway decent, but given that, nearly everyone in India is an expert on cricket and has followed the travails of most of the players from their inception, their standards are lofty. 

Besides, cricket isn’t the easiest of sports for actors to replicate on screen: it’s far too nuanced, skill-based and exceedingly movement-dependent to learn to stylise in a matter of months. The best one can do then is to offer a silhouette of mannerisms for people to infer from. 

Therefore, nearly every single movie made with this topic as the peg will inevitably fall short. 

‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’, ‘83’, ‘Kai Po Che’, ‘Lagaan’, ‘Iqbal’, this very ‘exhaustive’ list contains all the movies one could potentially re-watch.

Now, another movie will be gauged against the background of the aforementioned list. 

‘800’ is a film that delves into the life of cricketer-par-excellence Muttiah Muralitharan, and the Sri Lankan off-spinner deserves a biopic. Sadly, the official trailer doesn’t inspire me to watch it. 

Though co-written by M S Sripathy and Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunathilaka of ‘Chinaman’ fame, the little bits one can gather show a contrived effort to convey Murali’s convoluted journey to the highest echelons of cricket. 

It’s not an easy tale to regulate for it involves a Sri Lankan Tamil in Muralitharan, who was slap-bang in the middle of a civil war in Sri Lanka. That he grew up in these times with Tamil as a language wasn’t ideal, but then came the controversy he courted with his bowling action. 

In that sense, Muralitharan was the outsider no matter where he went, but he rose beyond his identity to turn into one of the greatest Sri Lankan ambassadors to have ever lived. Relatable enough?

It’s not a cricket story one comes across often because his life careened between crisis and confusion for far too long to dismiss. Perhaps, why filmmakers, who had actually considered making a biopic on him over a decade ago, revisited it now. 

The timing of it is just right for it coincides with the 2023 World Cup, and what better way to honour a World Cup winner than to give us a glimpse of his life?! 

(Published 07 October 2023, 04:06 IST)

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