Sports movies need the clash of per­son­al­i­ties

The movies that work de­spite hand­i­caps rely on one of two el­e­ments — nos­tal­gia or treat­ment.


Movies on events and per­son­al­i­ties in sport work un­der ma­jor hand­i­caps. For one, the event is usu­ally well known. And for an­other, the per­son­al­i­ties tend to be those who per­formed rel­a­tively close to our times. Movies also come af­ter mil­lions of words have been writ­ten about their main char­ac­ter, which means there are sel­dom any sur­prises. What does a fan not know about Sachin’s cricket?

The movies that work de­spite th­ese hand­i­caps rely on one of two el­e­ments — nos­tal­gia or treat­ment. Pawn Sac­ri­fice, the story of the Bobby Fis­cher­boris Spassky chess ti­tle clash in 1972 worked well on both grounds. Many peo­ple took to play­ing chess as a re­sult of the enor­mous public­ity af­forded to that match. The Soviet Union saw that clash as one be­tween in­tel­lec­tual Rus­sia and the deca­dent West, while the West glo­ried in Fis­cher’s vic­tory.

There was too the per­son­al­ity of Fis­cher him­self — ec­cen­tric, un­con­trol­lable, a ge­nius once com­pared to Isaac New­ton, and an un­pre­dictable man who didn’t seem to live by the rules oth­ers did. It worked very well for the movie — the over­ar­ch­ing theme, the smaller is­sues, the per­son­al­i­ties, the re­ac­tion of the rest of the world.

I re­cently watched the movie of an­other iconic sport­ing event — the won­der­ful Wim­ble­don fi­nal of 19■0 in Borg v Mcen­roe. Again, nos­tal­gia and treat­ment came to­gether nicely, as did the story of Borg the ‘vol­ cano’ (as Vi­tas Geru­laitis re­ferred to him) who came to the edge of erup­tion of­ten but al­ways con­trolled him­self. This in sharp con­trast to Mcen­roe who erupted so of­ten that spec­ta­tors were some­times dis­ap­pointed when he didn’t. Per­haps, sports movies need a third di­men­sion too — the clash of per­son­al­i­ties. Spassky was the Borg to Fis­cher’s Mcen­roe, for ex­am­ple, the el­e­ment of Amer­i­can en­ti­tle­ment ever present.

Top In­dian sports­men tend to be more Borg­like. There is a movie wait­ing to be made on Prakash Padukone, the man who first showed, el­e­gantly and po­litely that the gi­ant­killers of Chi­nese bad­minton could be tamed. I hear Bol­ly­wood is mak­ing a movie on Kapil Dev and the 19■3 World Cup. On re­cent ev­i­dence, it might be an­other ha­giog­ra­phy, birth­to­re­tire­ment­with­ev­ery­thing­else­you didn’t­need­to­know kind of a movie.

The hope is that it is plugged to a sin­gle event (spoiler alert: In­dia won that World Cup), and there­fore might not have too much pad­ding. I en­joyed the movie on Milkha Singh, and even the one on Mary Kom de­spite its lead ac­tor.

Some­times the hand­i­caps men­tioned might turn out to be ad­van­tages. I may be gen­er­al­is­ing with­out proper ev­i­dence here, but I sus­pect In­dian au­di­ences pre­fer known sto­ries to sur­prises. Biopics on sports­men and movies on sport­ing con­tests lack sur­prises (they need ten­sion, which is an­other mat­ter), and that is usu­ally wel­come.


Suc­cess­ful biopic: In the Hindi movie, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, based on former In­dian ath­lete Milkha Singh’s life story, Farhan Akhtar por­trayed the ti­tle role to per­fec­tion.

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