Sachin: A Billion Dreams and a Few Disappointments

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Sachin: A Billion Dreams and a Few Disappointments

Ishifted uncomfortably in my seat, unable to completely relax in the perfumed crowd that filled the air-conditioned theatre. I was here to watch Sachin: A Billion Dreams, and despite my love for the man, I was feeling apprehensive. Biopics in India have a way going wrong, very wrong – they are even worse when they are approved ones. They are populist, cloyingly sentimental, and careful of skirting all controversy. But this was a docudrama. I had faith.

The lights dimmed, and the Dolby surround sound system roared to life with a familiar chant, set over a driving percussion beat.

“Sachiiin, Sachiiin!!!”

It built to a crescendo, drowning out all other sounds in the theatre. There was a strange thrumming in my chest as if something was pushing me to join in the chanting. A kind of primeval urge. I held back. I did not want to be carried away by emotion and wanted to watch the film objectively to understand whether it was yet another PR blitz, like his deadbeat song. Could the film possibly say anything new? Would it address controversy or would it kneel and worship? Would it, in the end, bring to light the man behind the legend?

The narrative of the legend we all know. It is encompassed in two throbbing words. Having grown up in the lane next to Wankhede, “Sachiiin, Sachiiin!!!” has been the soundtrack of my childhood. Each time I heard it, I remembered feeling one with the tens of thousands of people watching him play even as I ploughed through homework or sat through lunch. There is something instinctively coalescing about these two words. They have the strange power to make a divided nation of 1.3 billion people come together.

Back in the hall, I sat through the non-linear story of Tendulkar’s phenomenal childhood-to-retirement career path and the present day waiting to be surprised. The audience around me had no such reserve. They cheered for every old clip that played in a cacophonous celebration of Sachin’s brilliance, years after he had first proved it to us in stadiums across the world. No one seemed to really care about cinematic truth, or objectivity, or a fair presentation of a man’s life and failings. They cared only for their hero.

It’s impossible not to feel swept up in the emotional torrent that is at the heart of Sachin’s artistry. When we watched him bat, the thwack of his willow was the sound of our hearts thumping.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams isn’t a hard-hitting exposé, nor is it a trivia hound’s delight. It simply presents facts and events that are already well-known to Sachin’s legions of fans, set to great music and drama. It is not a cinematic treat. It is a soothing emotional release. It’s like watching a Disney movie with cuddly dogs and eating a giant tub of ice-cream. The experience cannot be anything but therapeutic. I was taken back to all the occasions Sachin has united the whole country with his skill. Like the time three generations of my family sat down and watched his Sharjah innings. Or the beer-soaked evening where I sat down with a non-cricket fan and saw Sachin convert them on his way to a double century.

Every Indian cricket fan in that cinema, I realised, was reliving their own special memories of Sachin. The man was often their sole ray of hope during the ’90s, when the Indian team was going through a patchy, tumultuous period. There we were, each one of us in the audience, wrapped in our own warm blankets of nostalgia and memories as we saw Sachin’s iconic knocks: Sharjah ’98, 200 not out, his first international century, and so many others.

It’s impossible not to feel swept up in the emotional torrent that is at the heart of Sachin’s artistry. When we watched him bat, the thwack of his willow was the sound of our hearts thumping.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams is then a crafty little film. It plays out cleverly, like it knows our weak spots and the things that will make us cry. It sets to stirring music the things we already know in our hearts: that Sachin is critical to India’s consciousness, that he is bearer of a billion hopes, the guardian of national pride. It takes that knowledge and it tops it up with unbearable cuteness, with clips of him playing Dad to his kids, and turning into a kid himself with his friends in Goa.

Nobody in that theatre gave a flying fuck about the fact that the film papered over the rough edges of Sachin’s career. Or even that it was possibly a little too soon for a retrospective. That it’s a lazy, PR film that is a sharply edited clip of all video footage that exists on the man. Nobody gave a rat’s arse and at the end of it all, neither did I.

Because when you’re watching a “best of” reel of a man who has been a collective idol, a man who has achieved all but godhead, it is no longer a communal experience. It’s a devotional one. It is the fervour you feel in a chanting crowd in a temple or praying with hundreds of others at the altar. During the Sachin years, it didn’t matter if your personal favourite was Dravid, Kallis, or Lara, there was no batsman more entertaining than Tendulkar to watch in a gathering.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams might not offer much by way of a movie. It does however offer a pair of rose-tinted shades and a comfortable spot to watch the past play out once again. That can’t be a bad thing.