No matter how one approaches an entry like Sachin: A Billion Dreams, either as docu-biopic or nostalgia trip down sporting glory memories, one thing become abundantly clear. India can get as crazy about cricket as, say, Argentina or Brazil get about soccer, Americans about football, Canadians about ice hockey and Cubans about baseball. That is to say the entire nation goes completely gaga around major cricket events in the year. The other takeaway is that the story of Indian cricket, indeed the story of all cricket, cannot be complete without a chapter or two on Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket king who, as outlined pretty well in Sachin: A Billion Dreams, elevated the sport and the nation along with him to new heights.
Etched out as an origin story in the early going, Tendulkar’s middle-class Bombay upbringing is nicely reinforced with the story of his father Ramesh Tendulkar, a professor of Marathi, and his homemaker mother Rajni. Taken under the wing by older brother Ajit from Sachin’s early teens, the spark of raw talent showed promising potential. From a prodigy selected to play in a test match against Pakistan at a record-setting and astonishingly young age of sixteen to his courtship and eventual marriage to his wife Anjali, that part of the meteoric arc flows with ease. A portrait begins to coalesce; that of unassuming, modest by any measure, and surprisingly grounded personality more interested in keeping in touch with his close-knit family then with any scoring statistic.
As appealing as it is, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in part because Erskine’s movie has Tendulkar’s early childhood events staged with actors to maintain narrative cohesion, goes lacking as a true documentary. The overall feel is that of Tendulkar sitting down to narrate his life-story and then news footage or play-acting getting inserted for dramatic flair. Sachin: A Billion Dreams falls somewhere between fictitiously made biopics of real-life sport starts (Mary Kom, Baag Milkha Baag, Paan Singh Tomar, Azhar, M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story or even Dangal) and outside observers connecting lost footage or home movies, formal or scratchy-mike informal interview and press clippings. In Hollywood, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams (basketball) and Stacey Peralta’s Dogtown and Z Boys (skateboarding) sway in that direction.
Where Sachin: A Billion Dreams misses out takes away absolutely nothing from Tendulkar as a phenomenal cricketeer, second perhaps only to the legendary Australian batsman Don Bradman as the all-time greatest, who broke and still holds so many records in test matches. The feeding frenzy Tendulkar inspired in Indian cricket —making him by the far the greatest sports figure in India’s history—resulted in a mass following where the entire country practically shut down when this great player was doing his magic on international cricket pitches in televised games. The closest popular figure to compare to such mass adulation would arguably be the following that movie star Amitabh Bachchan—a megastar of a different kind —generated in his prime.
Tendulkar’s arrival on the big cricket stage more or less paralleled the unveiling of “New India” under Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister. For international satellite channels first pitching globally-linked broadcasting tents in India, Tendulkar’s ascent pretty much summed up the story of India. A talented/outward looking, young/youthful, man/nation, breaking out onto the world stage, to batting invincibility/as a budding regional superpower. The sports star symbolized the nation as much as the nation idolized this star.
Sachin: A Billion Dreams is more than nostalgia dressing and more than the true story of a sporting figure’s achievements as a first-among-equals modern gladiator with kill ratios that count on non-lethal charts. Sachin: A Billion Dreams may be appealing to something deeper. This simple surefire legend of a grounded mortal, whose followers may readily believe that his feet don’t necessarily touch the ground, resonates today when there is a subliminal hunger for truth, when many news stories are suspect, the ground rules are being re-written and perhaps even the playing field is shifting. Let Sachin: A Billion Dreams resonate.