Sachin: A Billion Dreams Review: A One-sided Account Of Tendulkar’s Legacy, Film Companion
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Director: James Erskine

I’m a little stumped. 1996-semifinal stumped. It’s been over four hours since the screening of Sachin: A Billion Dreams. I’m still somewhere between losing the India jersey and donning the film-critic hat. If I react to the cricketer, I’ll be betraying the point of my craft. If I react to my personal feelings about the cricketer, I’ll be betraying the point of the film. And if I react to only the film, I’ll be betraying the sociocultural significance of a career that far transcends my reading of the sport. In any possible scenario of professional capacity, I’ll be betraying something. At times, I won’t even know what.

It’s a lose-lose situation for a writer of a country that has forever struggled to identify a balance between passion and practicality, between sentiment and reason, between divinity and consequence. And it’s ironic – and maybe oddly appropriate – that a film, based on an athlete that became the living embodiment of that balance, embodies this struggle most visibly. It betrays the complexity of the man, but not the theatre of him. It betrays the integrity of documentation, but not the power of it. Because this documentary is actually about India’s longest running mainstream movie of all time.

ALSO WATCH: SACHIN TENDULKAR & RAVI BHAGCHANDKA INTERVIEW | SACHIN: A BILLION DREAMS

For three generations, Sachin Tendulkar has been that big-budget extravaganza: certified “U,” unrealistically presented, freakishly aspirational, a pretty distraction, a heightened escape, a go-to dream sequence, a picturesque location, one loud song, many frenetic dances, an enduring romance and a cauldron of sequels, melodrama and occasional heartbreak. And so it’s only to be expected that any “making-of” concerning this extravaganza will reflect its commercial accessibility, too. It is bound to include the kind of selected behind-the-scenes footage that reiterates the character of the protagonist, not so much the actor playing the role.

Therefore, we’ll hear him speak – often, carefully designed sentences – about stories we’ve read, about things we already know, about events we’ve already internalized. Yet there’s something vaguely archetypical about listening to him behave as if he were narrating his tale simultaneously to and for us. We’d rather not know more, because it could present a risk of losing perspective of not our interpretation of him but ourselves.

We’ll see an awkwardly recreated part of his childhood, with professional actors – easily the most unnecessary and Wikipedia-ish portion of the “docudrama”. But then we’ll also see a retired 40-something adult speak lovingly about his kitbag, and his child-like obsession to customize the stuffing of his pads and repair chipped bats – perhaps the most honest and un-staged part of his personality.

When he talks about his own lessons, his mottos, attributes and takeaways, it sounds more like he is telling us how to succeed instead of demonstrating how he succeeded. When he shows us his fondness for a childhood gang of friends, it looks as if we’re being given a solid crash-course in how to stay middle-class and grounded. When we see his love for cars and the English countryside, we’re in a way being taught that it isn’t a crime to earn our luxuries.

Some of us might like being judged by his life this way. But those of us who choose to thrive on the unattainable genius behind the straight six off Michael Kasprowicz or violent hook off Andy Caddick might perhaps resent this “stable” tone of posturing. We’ll see home videos of his family and wedding, like a rare glimpse into the private existence of the strict schoolteacher you’d dare not approach outside the classroom.

We’ll see an awkwardly recreated part of his childhood, with professional actors – easily the most unnecessary and Wikipedia-ish portion of the “docudrama”. But then we’ll also see a retired 40-something adult speak lovingly about his kitbag, and his child-like obsession to customize the stuffing of his pads and repair chipped bats – perhaps the most honest and un-staged part of his personality.

We won’t hear him speak much about anything too public, anything that hinders the underdog spirit of his narrative: a cursory nod of disappointment to the match-fixing scandal, a polite dismissal of the Board’s decisions regarding his ill-fated captaincy stints, a fleeting opinion on Greg Chappell’s villainous influence, and no mentions of Vinod Kambli, Monkeygate, Ferraris, Dravid’s declaration, ball-tampering or the torturously indulgent 2011-2013 phase.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams Review: A One-sided Account Of Tendulkar’s Legacy, Film Companion

In between, there’s always the Sachin chant to tide us over. There’s always the boyhood dream of a World Cup victory to be realized. As was evident with M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, I don’t think we’re ready to humanize any of our heroes beyond the texture of their capes – so much so that even a British filmmaker examining the legacy of an Indian cricketer refuses to register where his devotion ends and storytelling begins.

On one hand, I know I’ve been manipulated into feeling everything the film wants me to feel. I’m 31, yet it feels like I’ve grown up all over again only in the last four hours. The problem is it isn’t so difficult to achieve that. For better or worse, Sachin is everyone’s personal time-travel machine; his landmarks have long served as the visual markers of our life. I’m nostalgic and weak, and vulnerable and emotional, and I also know that this condition isn’t because the film is great. It isn’t. It’s just about a familiar greatness – something none of us really mind sharing, in whatever form, in whichever voice, as long as it caters to our memories of association.

It affords the kind of temporary satisfaction one derives out of watching the famous words of a book – or in this case, a career – safely adapted for the screen. We know exactly what’s coming, but still seek the validation of flipping through pages of an old diary. Yet this film knows, all along, that no Indian growing up in the last few decades can be dispassionate enough to analyze its choice of narrative or craft.

On the other hand, I’m well aware that Erksine has chosen to make a glaringly “official” documentary, primarily utilizing his proximity with Tendulkar to construct a one-sided account of his legacy. There are of course others who speak about him in varying levels of reverence, too, but one senses that they are all in a Tendulkar film; their respect is legitimate, but also comes across as a first-hand reaction to the ingrained values of the image this country worships. And because there is no distance between the maker and his subject, there continues to remain a deliberate distance between the subject and his adoring audience. And I suspect that this world – his oyster – would have it no other way.

Watch the trailer of Sachin: A Billion Dreams here-

Rating:   star

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