The problem with pitching a story way, way too good to be true.
“We open with a young boy,” gushes the director breathlessly — exaggeratedly enthused by every word he himself utters, his very tone an exclamation mark — hardselling his pitch. “Cute, middle-class, short even. With an afro. Wants to play cricket, be a fast bowler.”
The producer grunts, a non-committal, potentially dream-crushing grunt. “Another sports movie? And bowling toh already had Iqbal na. Make him a batsman.” “Okay, okay,” says the director, undeterred and eager to compromise. “Bowling coach tells him he’d bat better. So he does. Young teenager, total prodigy.”
“We can even have a Gavaskar cameo, where he gives the boy his own pads after seeing him bat. When he’s 15, he scores a hundred in every match he plays. At 16, they pick him for the team.”
“For India? At 16?”
“Yeah, yeah India, boss. And he debuts against Pakistan! Bloody fast bowlers hammer him. Just picture it: in slow-motion, he wipes the blood off his nose and plays the next ball.”
The producer scratches his belly, yawning. “So phir, success and more success?” “Haan boss, but the scale of it! Something else! Boundary pe boundary, century pe century! Soon, he’s the best player in India. And he’s only 20, 21. Whole world watches him bat. Stadiums chanting. Bowlers having nightmares.”
The producer leans forward. “Okay, okay, I get it. And then? What’s the twist? Health problem?”
“Well yeah, his back starts cramping. Long innings start to worry him. But then he gets over it.” The producer groans impatiently. “Uff. Then maybe some scandal? Match fixing?” “Oh totally, sir. Fixing changes the face of Indian cricket, but only proves this guy is super-clean. He even wins matches India is supposed to lose.” “Listen, how can this work?” demands the producer. “Where is the drama? Conflict? Any ladki issue at least?”
“No no, he marries early on.” “Then what, one day he just loses form? New kids start playing better?” “Actually yes, after he turns 30, the magic seems to dry up.” “Aha,” smiles the producer, finally relieved. “So then, loss of form, forced retirement, drinking, frustration. I see. And then at the end of the film,” he soothsays, getting ahead of himself in that way producers do, “we have redemption: he turns into a coach or something, gives something back. Interesting.”
“Nahin boss, after a couple of years of bad form he starts clicking again.” “Huh? But you said he was 30. Retire nahin karega kya?”
“Arre sir, what are you saying? This is when he gets really special. Becomes even better than he ever was. Breaks every record in the books. People routinely call him better than Bradman. Full-blown worship, you see?”
The producer’s exasperated hand slams sweatily onto the sunmica desk. “Abe yaar, what is this? You said sports drama. This is saala fantasy movie, like Krrish or something! Does he also have a cape? Your damn batsman is more than Batman even. No thanks,” he snorts. “I want to make something realistic, which excites people. This is a fairytale, a complete comicbook kahaani. Nobody will ever believe it only.”
He’s right, you know, that hardboiled producer. As Mark Twain said, Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t. And, yeah, none of us would buy that film. Yet here we are, pinching ourselves in awe, year after year, match after match. Happy 50, SRT. And thanks.
Originally published Mumbai Mirror, December 22, 2010