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Sachin: A Billion Dreams review – Throwback to the wonder years

Release Date: 26 May 2017 / Rated: U / 02hr 18min

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Mayur Lookhar

The biographical film on Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar triggers a nostalgic wave of euphoria.

What is the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar? Only an Indian will be able to explain that. Or so we thought. Remarkably, the story of perhaps India’s greatest sporting icon has been documented by an Englishman, James Erskine.

Another great Englishman, Sir Richard Attenborough, had told the tale of Mahatma Gandhi. The Academy award-winner Gandhi (1982) was, however, a British film. Erskine’s Sachin: A Billion Dreams is an Indian film all the way.

Over the past few years, Indian cinema has tapped into biopics, but, surprisingly, the one on the 'god' of cricket has taken time coming. Better late than never, as they say.

Was it mere coincidence that the rise of Sachin Tendulkar coincided with the liberalization of India's economy? While that may be hard to say, there is no denying that just as liberalization breathed new life into the struggling Indian economy, Tendulkar lifted Indian cricket from the throes of mediocrity and transformed its fortunes, both on and off the field.

Those who have followed Tendulkar's career keenly will be familiar with the many events that unfold in the film. Those who haven’t need not be disappointed, for director Erskine has penned a simple chronological narrative of the star's life.

Tendulkar's cricketing exploits are well documented, but seldom did fans come close to knowing Sachin the person. The story is best heard from the horse’s mouth.

Long perceived to be a shy, private man, Tendulkar surprises you by opening up on his life and career. For 24 years, he let his bat do the talking, but when he speaks, the world listens. The Master Blaster, as he was fondly called, has recorded the film in English, Hindi and Marathi, with the film also having been dubbed in Tamil and Telugu.

Tendulkar has put in the hard yards to narrate his own story. He is far from perfect, but he is not pretentious. Like his classy batting, Tendulkar speaks straight from the heart.

Most sports biopics hover around accomplishing a long cherished dream. Here it’s the limited overs World Cup dream that Tendulkar cherished since he was a boy. The great innings and moments are only used to trigger a wave of nostalgia. They still give you the goosebumps.

The film scores on its human aspect. Though Tendulkar has been worshipped as a cricketing 'god', Erskine succeeds in bringing out the humble mortal in him. The simple, priceless moments with his wife Anjali and kids Sara and Arjun warm your heart.

Tendulkar faced the most fearsome bowlers in his time, but he didn’t have the guts to tell his parents that he wanted to marry Anjali Mehta. It was she who convinced the Tendulkars to approve of their relationship. Anjali has been a pillar of strength for Sachin, especially when his career hit a few roadblocks

Tendulkar's hectic schedule meant he seldom saw his children grow up. The time spent with his kids helped him ride over periods of tribulation. India was knocked out in the first round of the 2007 World Cup with angry fans making it impossible for Tendulkar and the rest of the team to step out in public.

A young Arjun Tendulkar tore into a schoolmate who blamed his dad for the World Cup loss. Often fans lose sight of how their criticism doesn’t just affect the person but also his/her family. Tendulkar has shared a few such private moments that remind you that for all his divine status, he is, after all, human, a husband and a father.

Apart from giving insights into the private life of Tendulkar, Erskine has done well to get him to talk briefly about the lows in his career. The most significant has to be Tendulkar opening up about his disappointment when he was asked to step down from the captaincy after a poor tour of the West Indies in 1997.

Then there was the 2000 match-fixing saga which affected him. However, Tendulkar toes a more diplomatic line here. You wonder whether he could have opened up more on the controversy. What’s amply clear, though, is how Tendulkar had a fractious equation with former captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Similarly, Tendulkar hasn’t hesitated in blaming former India coach Greg Chappell for the disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign.

Fellow cricketer Harbhajan Singh did not mince words in saying that Chappell adopted a divide-and-rule policy. Chappell perhaps made for an easy target, so it is a little inappropriate for Erskine and Tendulkar to target him. Then again, Erskine is an Englishman, and don't the English love a good Aussie bashing?

Sachin's rise coincided with economic liberalization, but you wonder what was the need to include a byte from former US president Barack Obama saying India is a global superpower. What relevance did that have with Tendulkar's career? Similarly, the tribute by prime minister Narendra Modi appears unecessary.

Biopics often face the danger of veering towards vanity, but then sports stories are laced with moments of euphoria. Sachin: A Billion Dreams, too, runs that risk, but Tendulkar should be lauded for praising the heroics of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the epic 2001 Kolkata Test against Australia. The Aussies were his favourite opponents and so one is not surprised to see tales of the Warne versus Tendulkar battle.

Erskine has perhaps doled out a biopic keeping in mind the sensibilities of the Indian audience. It is populist, but not a tale of vanity. Credit needs to be given to journalist and presenter Harsha Bhogle who has followed Tendulkar since the latter was 14 years old. Bhogle’s sincere voice lend great value to the film.

For all his cricketing feats, the true highlight of the film is the equation that Tendulkar shared with his father. All that the late Ramesh Tendulkar wanted of his son was for him to become a good human being. Despite Sachin's 100 international centuries and over 34,000 runs, his father would have been most proud of the way he has always remained rooted.

Leave aside all the feats or the billlion dreams, it is the humility of Tendulkar that makes Sachin: A Billion Dreams worth watching. It is time to relive the wonder years.

Reviewed by Mayur Lookhar