There is an old photograph on Instagram, which shows Pravin Tambe standing with Brad Hodge in an airport queue for senior citizens. The moment was meant to be an obvious joke about their age (both were over 40 when this picture was clicked), but it also showed that they had enough zeal and dedication to continue playing at an age when most cricketers settle down for coaching jobs or commentary gigs.
There was one big difference though: While Hodge made his domestic debut in the early 90s and played in the all-star Australian side of the 2000s, Tambe made his debut at the senior-representative level in 2013 and forged a successful T20 career in his 40s.
Tambe's achievement wasn't merely the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, it was also a testament to his stubborn love for the game. To bank on this die-hard attitude as the central emotion of the film (The movie's trailer uses the line, 'Witness the incredible story of a fighter, dreamer, believer who never gave up') might sound good in theory, but is tough to present in practice.
The usual underdog tales need uplifting moments for the protagonist, to create a sense of positivity amidst the tense battle the audience finds themselves witnessing. Rocky and Rocky II, for example, have training montages that depict Rocky's bout turning into Philadelphia's fight.
Apart from the extremely contrived IPL game towards the end (the hat-trick shown in the movie happened in 2014, meanwhile his Ranji debut took place before the game referred to in the movie), there is very little of this in Kaun Pravin Tambe?
While he is backed at different stages of the movie by his friends and family: there is hardly anyone who takes his goal of becoming a Ranji cricketer seriously after he has reached a certain age, and there is no single breakthrough spell or tournament which helps his selection at the senior level.
This helps create an excellent backdrop for the struggles that Pravin Tambe faces throughout his career. What he faces are not just external issues, and setbacks such as non-selection, changing several jobs and juggling them along with cricket in his quest to play at the highest level, but also his internal frailties and fears.
He is unsure of Vidya Sir's advice to turn to spin, even wondering if this is part of a plan to exclude him from the playing side. He also takes the journalist Rajat Sanyal's harsh critique on his approach – in a sequence when Tambe wonders aloud if his exclusion is based on luck or some other reason, Sanyal states that the only reason for his exclusion from the Mumbai squad is the question of talent – as a personal attack.
And this is where the movie's real magic lies. This is not the journey of an extremely talented yet out of luck individual who suddenly turns it all around (after a motivational song sequence), but of a man who learns from his mistakes and eventually experiences unexpected success.
He comes to understand that exclusion from a side is not a one-to-one affair, but rather replacement of one player by someone who is better than him. He also changes his position and turns to spin quite late in his career: returning to Vidya sir for assistance. The movie shows that life is often about the difference in perspectives and no one side is completely right or wrong. This shows up even in the journalist Sanyal's change of attitude after Tambe's eventual success in the IPL.
Perhaps the final half an hour was the toughest bit for the filmmakers, given that Tambe's journey is as epic as it is unreal. To assimilate it into one dramatic triumphant scene would've been near impossible, and though the makers chose one of the finest moments from Tambe's career (his IPL hat-trick), it doesn't fit in seamlessly with the rest of the narrative. What worked on the other end were the comic sequences involving the Tambe family. The camerawork is impeccable in some of these scenes, especially during the marriage proposal sequence.
Shreyas Talpade, who played a cricketer in Iqbal (2005), does a fine job of portraying the trysts and trials of Tambe, while Ashish Vidyarthi excels as the coach who guides the bowler to the road of success. Parambrata Chatterjee's role as the non-believer Sanyal, who dismisses Tambe as a gully cricketer, is quite straightforward yet the actor renders a nuanced portrayal which makes for a good contrast to the hardworking hero. The film is able to do justice to Tambe's journey by accurately portraying the never-say-die fighter in him.
At the end of the day, the story is about a man who persevered when others gave in, whose fixation to play in the Ranji championship wasn't dictated by time or circumstances but by his passion, and who eventually saw success but didn't stop there and continued fighting beyond.