The Sports Biopic That Will Never Be

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The Sports Biopic That Will Never Be

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza/ Arré

O

n screens across the country today, a grand saga is unfolding. The life of cricketer MS Dhoni, who was last seen in India colours in two T20 matches against West Indies in Florida, is playing out in the plain vanilla biopic, Dhoni, The Untold Story.

A few months ago, another famous-turned-infamous cricketer, Mohammad Azharuddin, was on screen, selling his version of the story in Azhar. I didn’t want to see it; Emraan Hashmi essaying the lead role was just one reason. The more important reason is that Azharuddin’s real life story is more enthralling than any half-hearted biopic on his life is ever going to be. A Hyderabadi boy born in an orthodox Muslim household where even going to the movies was not kosher, goes onto score three consecutive centuries in the first three test matches of his career. At the height of his fame, leaves his demure wife for a Bollywood starlet. Was on the last mile of his illustrious career when his involvement with bookies and match-fixing was dug up and the dirty laundry aired in public. As a cruel reminder of how he chose to throw it all away when he was so close to the closing credits of his career, he was left stranded at 99 tests and never got to play his 100th.

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Azhar aimed to paint him as an innocent man wrongly framed and paying for sins he didn’t commit. It showed him returning the money he took to underperform back to the bookies.

Hold it, hold it. He returned the money to the bookies? Then why was he slapped with a life ban by the BCCI and left to spend numerous years in the wilderness, not even acknowledged by his own teammates? Was the BCCI wrong? Are we supposed to believe the CBI and Delhi police who investigated the case or a movie script based on selective amnesia?

If a biopic is largely a work of fiction and misrepresents reality, is it really a biopic?

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Indians like their sport biopics and autobiographies to be like a Yash Chopra feature: There is a dream, there are numerous obstacles in the way of achieving that dream, somewhere along the way true love enters the picture and helps overcome all obstacles. In the end, the protagonist succeeds against all odds and everyone lives happily ever after.

Here is the template for *insert any sport biopic name*

Deep voice: Bas ek hi khwab tha din raat… (He had just one dream)

*Cut to small boy standing in an empty ground*

Deep voice: Par zindagi ne sikhaya ki iss duniya mein kuch bhi pana aasan nahi hota… (But he learned very early that nothing ever comes easy)

*Cut to young kid being humiliated by his coach/buddies*

Deep voice: Par usne bhi apna khwab pa lene ki zid pakad li (He resolved to achieve his dream)

*Cut to boy, slightly grown up, pumping iron in the gym, racing against a train in a pre-dawn shot*

Deep voice: Aur usne dikha diya… Ki kuch paane ke liye, ek khwab kaafi hota hai (He proved to the world that impossible is nothing)

*Cut to man now turned pro just before a defining moment in his career: Taking guard before a shot/getting ready to shoot a penalty/getting into the boxing ring*

<Insert movie title>

We know all this, but we don’t want to know the answers to tough questions.

There lies somewhere in a sealed envelope, names of players and officials involved in the IPL match-fixing. Will any biopic or autobiography ever reveal those names?

Here’s what I want answers to, the questions that have haunted me. Which cricketer’s biopic will tell me if the ’96 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka was fixed, as alleged by Vinod Kambli, who is another one of Indian cricket’s sob stories? It will always remain Indian cricket’s moon-landing moment. Will we ever know the true extent of the match-fixing malaise that hurt cricket in the ’90s and the IPL fixing scandal that hit us a couple of years back? Will we ever know the amount of black money on which the IPL rides?

Autobiographies that tend to gloss over the hard truths, aren’t that different. A sporting autobiography I unabashedly enjoyed was Andre Agassi’s Open. The rebel-turned-statesman passionately described how he hated tennis because he was forced into it by his father, did meth and wasn’t found out by a dope test, his turbulent marriage to Brooke Shields, and his eventual journey back to contentment and rediscovering his love for tennis. It was a lesson in candour and should serve as a model for storytelling from the heart, warts and all.

Contrast that with Playing It My Way (2014), the most-awaited sport autobiography in India. Sachin Tendulkar’s rise is like the national anthem of sporting journeys – everyone knows it. That’s the last thing we needed a book to tell us. Everyone held their breath to know what Sachin would say about the match-fixing scandal that ended careers and his knowledge of it; about cricket administration, and the BCCI’s clout. Now that he was retired and feted, there would be no more pressure to be diplomatic.

What you got instead, was one page. The entire match-fixing saga was brushed off as an unfortunate event that befell cricket. No word on whether he knew something was amiss, reported anything to the board, was asked to maintain silence. No word on his former teammates’ involvement and their subsequent bans. No fresh insight into how the BCCI functions like an opaque body.

Why should I expect any truthing from Dhoni, The Untold Story? What untold story will it reveal?

Here’s what we know. He was a ticket collector from Ranchi, not a place known for cricket. His rise to the top was met with dissent by a few of his peers who felt they were overlooked for captaincy. He led the team to its first-ever T20 World Cup victory and four years later, gave an entire generation of millennials their first World Cup victory. That’s where the movie ends. On a triumphant note with the six that every Indian has seen until their eyes bled.

Here’s what the biopic won’t touch upon.

After the high of the 2011 World Cup victory, the team was railroaded in two consecutive test series in England and Australia where they lost eight test matches on the trot. There were calls for Dhoni’s axing as captain. A selector even came out in the open to say that the committee had recommended a change in captaincy but were thwarted by N Srinivasan, then the most powerful man in world cricket.

Follow the paper trail. In 2013, Chennai Super Kings, the IPL team that Dhoni captained was embroiled in a betting scandal. Gurunath Meiyappan, N Srinivasan’s son-in-law and team principal of CSK, was accused of betting on his own team. Why then did Dhoni tell the IPL probe committee that Gurunath Meiyappan was a “mere cricket enthusiast” when the latter actually travelled with the team as the team principal? Fuck, if only all cricket enthusiasts got to travel with the team and sit in the dugout.

There lies somewhere in a sealed envelope, names of players and officials involved in the IPL match-fixing. Will any biopic or autobiography ever reveal those names? Didn’t Dhoni, as captain, know that the team principal was betting against the side? In 2014, in the middle of a high-profile test series in Australia, Dhoni abruptly announced his retirement from tests, shocking everyone. Will we ever know why?

One day, we might all wake up to the biopic of all biopics. Let’s call it Brahman – The Ultimate Truth. It will be the Truman Show of sport where we will be told that everything was a lie, a sham and all that we had seen and believed to be true was one big plot masterminded by N Srinivasan, Sepp Blatter, Bernie Eccelestone, Lalit Modi, and a bunch of other power-hungry administrators. It will promise to lay threadbare the truths that we have been kept away from.

Something tells me it will be the least believed movie in history.

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