Sporting Encounters: From Dangal to '83, sports films are winning gold


India is winning armloads of Gold at the Common Wealth Games 2018. Who knows, alongside the known names like Mary Kom (Mary Kom) and Babita Kumari (Dangal) who are bringing honour to the country, there could well be yet unknown real life stories that inspire films in times to come!

[caption id="attachment_57969" align="aligncenter" width="571"] Image Courtesy Twitter[/caption]

A well-made sports film, more often than not, proves irresistible at the box office. The theme invariably centres around the triumph of an individual or team who prevail despite the odds. And this combination of guts and glory makes for cinema that is not only engaging and satisfying but also undeniably profitable.

Who amongst us didn’t weep into our tissues when Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) finally vindicated himself after steering the Indian national women’s hockey team to victory? A former captain of the Indian men’s national field-hockey team, he is ostracized after the team’s loss to Pakistan, but finally redeems himself. The film, which was inspired by the team's win at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, explored themes such as feminism and sexism, the legacy of the Partition of India, racial and religious bigotry, and ethnic and regional prejudice all within the parameters of commercial cinema. All that and SRK’s dimples too… No wonder Chak De! India was a winner all the way.


And who among us didn’t jump to our feet cheering at the predictable yet sensational climax of Lagaan?! Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) and his team of homegrown talents, including a poultry owner, a deaf mute, an untouchable, a Sikh, a Muslim, and even the village rebel, combine forces and actually manage to defeat their mighty British masters in a do-or-die game of cricket. The film hit all the right spots and remains a favourite to this day.
In a world hit by disillusionment, sports heroes are often seen as the only true heroes, worthy of worship.

Mary Kom, a biographical sports film, brought into focus the hard-won achievements of a successful yet neglected boxer. Starring Priyanka Chopra in the lead role of the eponymous boxer, the film depicted the pugilist’s journey from becoming a boxer to her victory at the 2008 World Boxing Championships in Ningbo. Mary Kom, who became first Indian woman to bag a boxing gold medal in Commonwealth Games 2018, had said back in 2014 that she hoped more youngsters and women got inspired by her after watching the movie. “That will be my success,” she had declared.

Sports films are inspiring on many levels. They inspire even those not inclined towards sports to face their own personal battles and emerge stronger. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag inspired by the life and journey of legendary Indian athlete Milkha Singh, didn’t leave a dry eye in the house. The film traced Milkha (played outstandingly by Farhan Akhtar)’s scarred childhood, brutalized by India’s Partition; followed by penury and petty crimes. His romance, followed by him joining the Indian Army, where his mentor inspires him to take the big ‘leap’... Running with the weight of a suffering soul, he breaks records but ultimately also breaks his heart post his defeat at the Rome Olympics of 1960. Eventually, he is able to overcome his catastrophic past and emerge a winner.

Sport, as a metaphor for life, is about winning over one’s shortcomings. Iqbal was voted amongst the Ten Hindi Films ideal for Training and Motivational material, with good reason. The story followed a cricket-obsessed deaf and mute boy from a remote Indian village as he aspired to overcome difficulties to become a cricketer and fulfill his dream of playing for the Indian national cricket team. With Shreyas Talpade in the lead, the film also received the National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues.

The biographical aspect of most sports films leads to an instant connect with the happenings onscreen. Besides being a wonderfully crafted film, there was no way Dangal could not strike a chord with audiences, given its real-life story of wrestler sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat and their tenacious coach-father played by Aamir Khan.

Similarly, the all-too-real trials and tribulations faced by former Indian cricket captain Dhoni made compelling viewing in the biographical MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. The hero’s journey from ticket collector to trophy collector was inspiring on many levels.

Sometimes biopics also give unsung heroes their due. Paan Singh Tomar, based on the true story of the athlete of the same name, told the sensational yet forgotten story of a soldier in the Indian Army, who won a gold medal at the Indian National Games, but was forced to become a bandit. Starring Irrfan Khan in the lead, the film won critical acclaim and emerged a super hit at the box office.

Even in the case of India’s most popular sports heroes, nothing like a refresher course on one of its greatest to keep the hero worship alive… Sachin: A Billion Dreams captured Tendulkar's cricket and personal life in substantial detail, as well as revealed a few aspects of his life which had never been heard of or seen before.

Sometimes along comes a film like Sultan which focuses on the dual nature of success – it gives even as it takes. Wrestling champion Sultan Ali Khan (Salman Khan)’s successful career creates a deep rift in his relationship with his wife (Anushka Sharma), a wrestler herself. A tale of redemption on many levels, it’s no wonder that the film went on to take its place as one of the highest-grossing Indian films of all time.

Canny filmmakers have realised the power of the sports film to touch hearts and fill seats. The days to come will bring no less than three mainstream sports films to the marquee. Akshay Kumar will be seen helming the historical period sports drama film Gold, directed by Reema Kagti. The film is a fictional story set against the backdrop of India winning its first gold medal in hockey as a free nation in the 1948 Summer Olympics.

Ranveer Singh will play the role of cricketing captain Kapil Dev in 83, which will follow the Indian team’s defeat of the West Indies in the World Cup of 1983. The film is touted to track the coming-of-age of not just a cricketing team, but of a young nation in the eyes of the world.

Also in the offing is a biopic on ace badminton player Saina Nehwal which will star Shraddha Kapoor in the lead.

Add to these, biopics on Abhinav Bindra with Harshvardhan Kapoor in the lead, badminton ace and coach P Gopichand, one on the greatest field hockey player of all time Dhyan Chand, Paralympic Gold medallist Murlikant Petkar, Olympic silver medal winner shuttler P V Sindhu, India’s finest track and field athlete P T Usha, India's Women's Cricket team captain Mithila Raj… and it’s set to be a long and enduring sporting season at the box office.