Movie Review: ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’

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Whenever India combines its two biggest loves – cricket and Bollywood- it’s met with excitement. When you then add perhaps cricket’s most successful player to that formula, expectations are not just doubled but go into another stratosphere.  That’s what the buzz has been for the film on Sachin Tendulkar, ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’, which released today. The billion dollar question though is does it live up to those expectations.

To clarify from the beginning, ‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ is not a typical Bollywood film. There are no actors playing the superstar cricketer, except for a short flashback at the start. The film is effectively a documentary so audiences should be aware this is not in the same genre as other films on cricket players such as the recent ‘M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story’ (2016).  Directed by James Erskine, and not a director from the Bollywood industry, the film is treated and handled in a very different manner. Whilst, like other film biopics, it charts the story including the rise and falls of Tendulkar’s career and personal life, it does so by having the man himself narrate his stories, memories and experiences directly to the audience.  Tendulkar is played by Tendulkar and this is how the film succeeds.

The opening credits immediately set the tone for the film as it shows real footage and snippets of Tendulkar’s success. You know that this movie will be a homage to the living legend that he is. As the first 10 – 20minutes roll, the audience is falsely lulled into thinking this will be a re-enacted story using unknown actors.  You are transported to his childhood and witness some wonderful childhood memories. The young Tendulkar is cheeky and mischievous and gives the viewer a sneak peek into the fun personality of the man behind the bat, something that is carried throughout the film with its humorous anecdotes and clips. You see the human behind the sports star and remember he rose from humble beginnings.  The initial opening sequence creates a feeling of nostalgia and warmth as you’re given a glimpse into the family life and the small titbits of information, such as how Tendulkar loves music and how India’s World Cup win in 1983 inspired him to want to play for his country. What then comes as a surprise is when the film starts to use real camera footage of Tendulkar’s younger years and when Tendulkar himself narrates. Suddenly the audience realises this is a documentary on the sports star.

The viewer is then taken on Tendulkar’s journey using this formula of interviews and real footage.  Anecdotes and memories are shared by his beloved family and friends interspersed with videos from the past as well as filming in present day where Tendulkar revisits key areas of his earlier cricketing days. The film follows his timeline of life from when he trained with his coach, his support from his siblings especially his brother, his first match against Pakistan in 1989 at age 16, his move to the UK to play in Yorkshire, how he met his wife and their marriage, the birth of his children, his key wins and successes throughout the years and painful personal experiences including the loss of his father.  The audience is also treated to interviews with key cricket players that have played with or been pitted against him including Wasim Akram and Shane Warne and many of the Indian cricket team members over his illustrious 24 year career including Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and special appearances by Sir Viv Richards and Sir Donald Bradman, all of which will be a treat for cricket fans.

What makes this journey so special though is the way it is interwoven together. As a viewer you are taken down memory lane re-watching key matches when Tendulkar showed his genius, as well as hearing new insights into his personal life and what makes him tick. Like a good film, this film takes the audience through an emotional journey –  as you watch matches you already know the outcome of you’re still transported back and once again feel the jubilation when India wins and the disappointment when they fail. You feel first hand once again the shock when the film doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of cricket and cricket fans as it showcases the turbulent time through allegations of match fixing in India. You experience the joy Tendulkar feels when he marries his wife and the sadness when he loses his father. You feel the sacrifices his wife and children have made and admire his dedication even more.  What makes this even more interesting is how the director has interwoven Tendulkar’s own journey to the success and fall of India. When India is growing and opening up for international trade, it’s down to Tendulkar’s success on the cricket pitch, when India witnesses some of its lowest points with the assassinations of presidents and prime ministers, its Tendulkar who lifts the nation.  The film carries patriotism as its flag throughout and the climax when India win the World Cricket again in 2011 will no doubt make Indian nationals stand up once again in pride.

Many key themes stand out in the film including the love for cricket, the focus on family and sibling relationships, team spirit but what you’re left with is feeling the self-confidence and determination that marked Tendulkar’s approach to his passion. As a viewer you admire that and you want to embody that.  AR Rahman’s background music also lifts the audience and the clever screenplay of weaving old footage with present day scenes, as well as a sharp focus on present day Tendulkar when he’s being interviewed make this an interesting concept on the story of one of the legends of cricket.

However, it is not a film without its flaws. For superfans of Tendulkar, they will have seen much of this footage already and know his story. For cricket fans, it’s an opportunity to relive some of the key matches and listen to some of the thoughts of players involved in those matches, but much of this many not be new to them. Even for viewers who have heard of Tendulkar’s name but know very little, whilst the film inspires and you marvel at the genius of the man there are times when the film drags and feels longer than it should. For Bollywood fans they will be disappointed this is not a masala-fuelled story.  It is a film made by a western director, predominantly for a western audience, even most of the narrative is in English.

This film will be watched due to the sheer hero status Tendulkar enjoys but audiences should go in with a view that this may be a story they already know and they wish to relive key cricketing events and hear from the man himself. It will hopefully inspire audiences again that team spirit, self-confidence and hard work can help you achieve not only your dreams, but the dreams of billions of Indians across the world.

BizAsiaLive.com rating: 3.5/5

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