Sports Cinema In India
It is the most crucial moment of the game. The tension is running high and time seems to have slowed down. The crowd is holding its breath in anticipation, and there’s a rush of adrenaline pulsating through every vein, a tingling of excitement between the toes, and the familiar hammering of an energised heart against the ribs.
Every person related to the world of sports be it the sportsperson or the sports fan is no stranger to this overwhelming rush of emotions. The ecstasy of winning, the heartbreak after missing the gold by the smallest of margins, and the pain of watching everything come crashing down all too quickly despite the relentless hard work, is all too real.
Portraying these emotions on the silver screen is a formidable yet significant task in itself. Making the audience understand the character arcs of their sportspersons so as to make them relate to these widely loved characters, is an added challenge. But then again, who doesn’t love a challenge?
There’s no doubt in the fact that Indians love a good sports film. The onset of the 20th century set the stage for a myriad of films in the genre of sports. Those which came before the 2000s include ‘Boxer’ (1984), ‘Hip Hip Hurray’ (1984), and ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ (1992). Though these were successful in their own way, they were unsuccessful in setting any kind of trend for future films in this genre.
Sports started to become increasingly popular after globalisation in 1991. Indian sports cinema gained recognition possibly after the nomination of ‘Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India’ (2001) at the Oscars. The introduction of sports leagues like the Indian Premier League, Pro Kabaddi League, India Super League, and the Premier Badminton League provided people with a medium solely meant for the purpose of sports entertainment. As their popularity increased, so did the interest and participation of the Indian masses in sports. Indian athletes began to come into the limelight as the media coverage of sports increased.
The increasing popularity of sports cinema was bolstered by the critical and commercial success of ‘Iqbal’ (2005) and ‘Chak De! India’ (2007). The prominent rise of some athletes also gave rise to a new category of sports cinema- sports biopics. Films like ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, ‘Mary Kom’, ‘Dangal’, and ‘M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story’ garnered global success.
Like any other genre, sports cinema too has had its hits and fails. What is it that makes a sports film or biopic successful? A variety of similar trends can be observed in these films. A lot of times, they present an idealistic success story, dramatised to engage the audiences. The protagonist is shown to ultimately triumph over all their societal, economic, and personal obstacles to finally achieve the dream dreamt by every player- bagging the win and the gold.
This genre of films is not restricted just to the portrayal of sports either. Tackling sensitive issues in the film adds an air of uniqueness and redemption to the narrative. A rags-to-riches story receives more attention and praise from the audience because of the odds that the main character has to face to get the gold. Successful sports films carefully try to find the delicate balance between the portrayal of actual sports and the depiction of these intense emotions in a bid to make the audiences feel for the character.
In ‘Lagaan’, the tyranny and oppressive policies of the British rule were shown crushed by the resolve of the farmer families of Champaner weaved together by the spirit of sports. Sports became a symbol of unity in a fragmented and caste-dominant Indian society. Mary Kom’s biopic illustrated her poverty-stricken background and her struggles to return to boxing after the birth of her twins and the taboos she had to face in her own community. ‘Dangal’ depicted the story of a father who fought against sexist societal norms to make his daughters world-class wrestlers. Milkha Singh is shown to suffer from the after-effects of the traumatic memories from his childhood which was marred by the brutal Partition of India in 1947.
Sports films also receive additional attention when prominent film stars play a defining role in the protagonist’s life even when the actor who plays the protagonist is not well known. Aamir Khan in ‘Dangal’, Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Chak De! India’, Akshay Kumar in ‘Gold’, and Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Jhund’. When huge stars headline the film, it is guaranteed at least a certain level of success at the box office due to the sheer extent of their popularity.
India’s performance in sports at the global level has been quite underwhelming for the past few years. Apart from a few big players, India’s achievements remain sub-par, especially when compared to the sheer size of our population. Modern infrastructure and facilities still seem like a faraway dream to some. It is with this backdrop that millions flock to the theatres to watch the representation of a dream so underrepresented. There lies a hope in the minds of people that one day, India will be seen as a sporting superpower.
Films like these are where sportspersons can catch a glimpse of themselves and feel represented. These are the films where youngsters find inspiration and dare to dream. Sports cinema ignites memories about a once ambitious version of oneself. It portrays a beautiful artwork of emotions with a tinge of hope, for those who had a dream, but for some reason or the other stayed unaccomplished.