It’s a tricky thing reviewing a film that celebrates the life and career of one of the most loved sportsmen this country has produced. Because fans tend to have trouble making a distinction between the film and the man. Which means any criticism of the film, any attempt on your part to point out its shortcomings will inevitably be misread as criticism of its famous subject.
Told you it wasn’t easy being a critic!
“Sachin: A Billion Dreams” faithfully chronicles every major milestone in the career of cricketing god Sachin Tendulkar, from his debut at 16 in international cricket to his retirement from the sport four years ago. It’s a journey that’s been obsessively followed and documented, hence not a lot of this is stuff you haven’t seen before. Then there is the matter of Sachin’s reluctance to address the controversies you’re interested in.
The film acknowledges that there were tensions in the dressing room when Sachin replaced Mohammed Azharuddin as captain, but the master blaster himself reveals no details. On the prickly issue of the match-fixing scandal, he expresses disappointment and shock but refrains from any constructive discussion on the incident. It’s only in the case of Greg Chappell that Sachin commits to anything by way of a firm response, describing the former coach’s style as “divide and rule”, and squarely blaming him for the team’s poor performance in the 2007 World Cup.
He’s more expressive when it comes to sharing his own vulnerabilities and failures. His rough patch on the field, his debilitating injuries and their impact on his game, and of course his ill-fated stints as captain. Emotion runs strong when he speaks about his father’s passing, and about his continuing efforts to live his life in the way that his father recommended.
The film’s real treasure is the footage of Sachin Tendulkar in his private moments: holding his baby daughter Sara for the first time, holidays with the family, hanging out with his friends, training with his son Arjun. It is unguarded moments like these, many accompanied by revealing interviews of family and friends that help piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is Sachin, the man behind the legend.
Like his wife Anjali recounting the time after their marriage that he made it clear that only one of them could work. Or his telling her, quite firmly, that he wouldn’t change the baby’s diapers. Another unexpected revelation comes from a childhood friend who names the Bappi Lahiri track that is Sachin’s comfort music.
Director James Erskine’s patchwork quilt of significant moments from Sachin’s life includes a recreation of his childhood years with a cast of competent actors. This he melds with both incredible home videos, and news footage from a storied career. Sachin’s achievements are placed in the context of India’s own modern history, and his rise and rise as one of the greatest icons of our time.
No matter how many times we’ve seen the clip, it’s impossible not to cheer at India’s 2011 World Cup Win, or choke up while watching Sachin deliver that heartfelt retirement speech at Wankhede. Sure there’s a lot more this film could’ve been, but it coasts along on the strength of nostalgia, familiarity, and our collective love for a man who’s name we turned into a chant.
I’m going with three out of five. Prepare for major gooseflesh.