Cricket is the only sport in our cinema that doesn’t need any explaining of the game’s rules. In films about other sports, the coach, or a senior player, get a scene where they speak to a rookie so the audience can catch all the points without missing a beat. But, even terms like “off-side,” “leg-side,” and “third man” are used extensively in cricket films, without the need for them to be elaborated on. We’re that crazy about cricket. But the same cannot the said about the politics that happen behind the scenes; in the selection committees, board meetings, coaching camps, etc.
These are some of the films that highlighted some of those issues:
Dear Comrade (2019, Telugu)
Ramesh Rao (Raj Arjun), the head of the South Zone Board, asks Lilly (Rashmika Mandanna) if she’d sleep with him. He says that she’s a talented player, but if she wants to play for the Indian team, she has to give him something in return. Lilly cries and shivers in his presence, and, yet, it doesn’t stop him from preying on her.
Rao’s first victim isn’t Lilly; we don’t really know for how long he has been asking for sexual favours from young cricketers. But he looks like smooth operator when we see him barge into the women’s restroom and tear the paper that probably contains the complaint that was raised against him by Lilly’s friend, Rubina (Pratyusha Jonnalagadda). Take a good look at his audacity. He’s not at all afraid that he’ll get exposed.
He goes on to push Rubina to the floor and kick her in the stomach several times, and threaten Lilly verbally and physically. He makes sure that they don’t go out of the web of mess he has created. He sends a cop from the top brass to rattle Lilly’s parents after being told that there’d be an investigation conducted by the BCCI members, since the beans have been spilled by Bobby (Vijay Deverakonda) and the media. Even there, he maintains that he’s done no harm to Lilly and adds that she’s falsely accusing him.
Jeeva (2014, Tamil)
Two non-Brahmin cricketers, Ranjith (Lakshman Narayan) and Jeeva (Vishnu Vishal), are sidelined by a host of Brahmin selectors in this film. Ranjith and Jeeva are terrific opening batsmen who’ve always played well. But the selectors, who wear a naamam (a religious feature that shows their superiority) on their foreheads, do not give them the same number of chances to prove their worth in the Ranji Trophy matches.
There’s a dialogue about how Parthasarathy (a Brahmin Board Member, played by Madhusudhan Rao) checks if Jeeva is wearing a sacred thread (another symbol of caste that’s worn by the men belonging to upper castes) by giving him a pat on the back. Caste-politics spells doom for the duo, as they’re at a disadvantage for not being born in Brahmin households.
The names of the castes aren’t explicitly mentioned, but if you keep your eyes on the screen, you’ll know to what extent discrimination plays out on the stadium. Their coach would have also warned them about the same earlier, but there’s not much they can do about it. When Ranjith doesn’t get satisfactory answers from Parthasarathy for being ill-treated by him and his colleagues, he commits suicide. Nevertheless, Jeeva soldiers on and continues to practice every day till he gets a bigger opportunity to show the world what he’s capable of pulling off.
Iqbal (2005, Hindi)
Guruji (Girish Karnad) agrees to teach Iqbal (Shreyas Talpade), a deaf-and-mute man, how to bowl, in his academy, with a big heart, after seeing him perform for a few minutes one day. But when Iqbal locks horns with Kamal (Adarsh Balakrishna), an arrogant batsman, Guruji tells him that he can’t coach him anymore as Kamal’s father is the one who’s pouring money into the academy. Guruji doesn’t want to take Iqbal’s side and spoil his relationship with Kamal.
When Iqbal finds another teacher soon after that in the form of Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah), he gets into the Andhra Pradesh Ranji Trophy team. His spectacular pace stuns everybody, and Guruji gets a feeling that Kamal won’t stand a chance against him. So, he tries to bribe his old student and uses the latter’s father’s financial troubles as bait. Guruji is an evil person who wears a smile all the time. He tells Iqbal that if he refuses to follow his orders, he won’t find a place in the Indian cricket team ever.
What choices does poor Iqbal have? Unlike other players, he hasn’t played cricket formally before. And most of his training took place amidst water buffaloes, and, his sister was, perhaps, the only audience member. Now that he’s gotten to a good position in his career, he has to get rid of the new Betaal from his back all over again.
Kanaa (2018, Tamil)
Kousalya Murugesan (Aishwarya Rajesh) is told not to play cricket, for–her mother reasons–it’s a men’s game. But Kousalya isn’t somebody who gives up so easily. She puts up a fight every time she’s told not to go near the ground. And with her father acting as her comrade, she picks up her ball and begins to learn the tricks of the trade by playing with the boys in her village. She calls everybody “Anna” (brother) and they all respect her for the decisions she takes. No other girl of her age has ever played cricket in a field full of boys–players, commentators, and viewers.
Also, nobody from the team treats her as a weak player because she’s a woman. Despite her mother’s reluctance to support her dreams wholeheartedly, she doesn’t put a full stop to her cricketing ambitions. And when she finally makes it to the big academy as a bowler, senior players mock her for her inability to speak Hindi. She’s served North Indian food, which she detests, as many players come from those parts of the country.
As if her journey isn’t tough, she has to face these fresh troubles in a language she doesn’t understand and in a place she doesn’t feel welcomed.