Monday, May 29, 2017


Release date:
Kerala: May 19, 2017. Delhi: May 26, 2017.
Basil Joseph

Tovino Thomas, Renji Panicker, Wamiqa Gabbi, Aju Varghese, Parvathy  

A village playground in Kerala was director Ranjan Pramod’s playing field in the sweetly evocative Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu released this April. The action shifts to a mud wrestling pit in small-town Kerala in Basil Joseph’s Godha starring Renji Panicker as a veteran gatta gusthi coach whose sport is losing to cricket in the popular psyche.

Captain, as Panicker’s character is called, is struggling not just with growing indifference within the community, but within his home too. His own son Das (Tovino Thomas) was a promising wrestler but gave it up. Dad sends the boy off to Punjab for higher studies, where he meets ace wrestler Aditi Singh (endearingly spelt “Adithi” in the English subtitles, as most Malayalis would). Aditi is played by Wamiqa Gabbi. Through a series of circumstances, the two end up back in Das’ village where each goes through a coming-of-age journey.

The most telling moment in Godha comes when the embattled heroine, who is being bullied by her family to give up her passion in favour of marriage, tells the hero: “Nobody wants a Sakshi Malik in their own house until and unless she wins an Olympic medal.” It is a remark that ought to shake us up and shame us, considering that we come from a society where successful women are often toasted by people who do not acknowledge the discrimination against women in their own homes. Unfortunately, the screenplay never rises above its many promising parts. What should have been a powerful sports film remains pleasant and entertaining throughout, but fails to be the gripping, compelling saga it could have been.

The concept is brimming with potentially explosive elements: a young south Indian man moving to north India for an education and a young north Indian woman heading off to the south to escape oppression, in a nation where the north-south divide is far deeper than we would like to admit; gender bias; politics in sports...each is touched upon in an interesting fashion at first. As the movie moves on though, charming as it is in so many ways, it becomes evident that it lacks heft.

Comparisons with Aamir Khan’s Dangal are inevitable, although that was a non-Malayalam film, because it too dealt with women in wrestling and it captured the imagination of audiences outside the Hindi belt too. Unfortunately for Godha, although Basil Joseph appears to be a confident director, the film’s screenplay needed to be much more than what it is. For instance, Aditi’s battles with her family’s conservatism and in the wrestling arena are too easily won. Das’ self-discovery is not explored with any depth once his father takes the girl under his wing. And Captain too remains more an idea than a fully fleshed out person.

It is largely a measure of the natural charisma of all three artistes and the supporting cast that they manage to keep the narrative engaging despite the shortcomings in the writing. Thomas – fresh from the recent success of Oru Mexican Aparatha – is likeable here. He must also be complimented on the well-chiselled physique he reveals (without the camera making a song and dance of it) when we see him wrestling. Gabbi is luminous, but what is far more striking is the way she gets the body and body language of a wrestler right. Panicker infuses warmth into the proceedings in a way only he can. And Aju Varghese as Das’ friend is a hoot, as he always is (barring a couple of instances of creepy behaviour by the character, which are presented as comedy).

It is particularly good to see the way Hindi, Punjabi and English are used by the dialogue writer, and the way languages flow in conversations in Godha as they would in real life if an open-minded north Indian were to travel to Kerala. The Malayalis in the film are shown trying to communicate as best as they can with her in the languages she knows, and after she spends some time in Kerala, she reciprocates the effort with Malayalam.

This, along with the strength of the assembled cast, the convincing realistic tone and the humour in the interactions between the characters keep this film going. If the script had half as much muscle as the average wrestler’s body, Godha could have been something special. As it is, Basil Joseph’s film stops at being nice. He is obviously a director with promise, so hopefully in his next venture he will pay more attention to the writing department (which, in any case, is the cornerstone of any good film) before assembling other impressive parts. Here’s looking at you, Mr Joseph!
Rating (out of five stars): **1/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
120 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Release date:
May 26, 2017
James Erskine

Documentary featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Tendulkar, Anjali Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Vivian Richards, Virat Kohli
Hindi with English and Marathi

(This is a review of the Hindi version of Sachin: A Billion Dreams. The film has been released in several languages.)


When a man’s every move on the sporting field was tracked with a magnifying glass by the world cricket media and his own maniacally cricket-loving nation during his 24-year international career which is still fresh in public memory, is it possible to say anything new about him that admirers and journalists do not already know?

Is it possible to engage a viewer who is not obsessed with him and/or the game?

Any film on Sachin Tendulkar – fictionalised feature or documentary – would inevitably face these two seemingly insurmountable challenges. James Erskine’s documentary, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, seems mindful of both.

It is not too packed with jargon, thus making it accessible to those who are not committed cricket buffs. It is entertaining enough to hold the interest of non-fans watching with academic curiosity rather than devotion to an idol.

It is filled with familiar moments that could warm the hearts of the cricketing legend’s die-hard admirers, but is not an in-your-face PR exercise designed to lazily cash in on this monumentally popular Indian cricketer’s readymade fan base. In unobtrusive ways it occasionally reveals hitherto unknown facets of him as a person without stating them in black and white.

Above all else, it is a diplomatic enterprise that does not risk openly contesting the popular national sentiment surrounding Tendulkar, and completely glosses over the known controversial aspects of the star’s professional life, yet does so cleverly, so that it comes across as careful rather than worshipful or overtly, shoddily pluggish.

The kid-glove treatment, I assume, was necessary to ensure Tendulkar’s support to the project. It is a measure of Erskine’s skill as a filmmaker that, despite this, Sachin: A Billion Dreams is vastly superior to last year’s Bollywood ventures Azhar (based on the life of former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin) and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams adopts a non-linear narrative structure, inter-cutting between Tendulkar’s phenomenal childhood-till-retirement career path and the present day. The icon’s own commentary about himself is overlaid on file footage and photographs along with comments by a dazzling array of past and present sporting megastars (Sunil Gavaskar, Vivian Richards and Virat Kohli among them), his brother Ajit Tendulkar, wife Anjali Tendulkar, commentator Harsha Bhogle and journalist Boria Majumdar. (Film stalwart Amitabh Bachchan as the lone non-cricketing talking head is a bit of a misfit here.)

The back-and-forth is smoothly executed by Erskine and editors Deepa Bhatia and Avdhesh Mohla, to the accompaniment of a throbbing soundtrack by A.R. Rahman which is one of the highlights of this film (in several portions, Rahman lets music cede the floor to the highly recognisable fan cry “Sachiiiiiin Sachiiiiiin” ringing uninterrupted on screen). Through the family album and actors standing in for the Tendulkar siblings, we meet the gifted child who, with the unstinting support of his parents and brother, Ramakant Achrekar’s no-nonsense training, his own extreme diligence and passion became the giant we know him to be.

Though much of this part of his story is already known, in Erskine’s hands it does not feel stale.

That said, it is important to stress that this is Tendulkar’s version of events, and while following him in the cricketing arena, the film looks at him with a completely uncritical eye.

Tendulkar’s rocky first stint as the country’s cricket captain, for instance, is pretty much entirely attributed to Azharuddin’s resentment. While this may possibly be true, the absence of a voice speaking for Azhar or assessing Tendulkar himself needs to be noted. Maybe Azhar is to blame, but could it also be that Tendulkar was just not a good enough leader at that point? The question remains unasked and therefore, unanswered.

Likewise, the film steers clear of a criticism that dogged Tendulkar throughout his days on the pitch: that he often prioritised personal records over team victories, that his scores tended to be record breakers in his name rather than match winners for the team. I am not for a second suggesting that this is true. However, it is an issue that has been raised by cricket watchers, and so should have been addressed, even if to be nixed with facts and figures.

I have been in at least one newsroom where a reporter who questioned Tendulkar’s attitude was silenced by an editor with the response, “but we cannot ask that, because it goes against the public mood”. I have no doubt other media editors have done likewise in the quest for populism and TRPs. This film would have been worthy of far greater respect if it had not walked on eggshells in a similar fashion.

In contrast to these portions, Sachin: A Billion Dreams becomes adventurous and truly analytical while recording Tendulkar’s personal life.

Erskine’s most intelligent moment in the film comes when he gets the Tendulkars to speak of Mrs T’s choices for the family. Sachin is shown informing us unequivocally that Anjali told him she wanted to quit her career as a doctor, whereas in the next shot the lady herself recalls Sachin telling her that one of them would have to leave their career. Of course we all know he did not mean himself, especially when Erskine follows that up with a soundbite from Sachin saying he needed a life partner who would fully understand his dreams. And so, Anjali Tendulkar tells us, she quit being a medical practitioner although she was an MD in Paediatrics. Legend or not, we see here that Sachin Tendulkar is no different from every patriarchal chappie out there who places his dreams and his goals above everything else in his family’s journey.

It is the film’s most quietly observant, best-edited passage, not appearing to pass judgement at all, yet in the obviously well-thought-out placement of those bites, revealing volumes.

Throughout the film, the chronicling of Tendulkar’s personal life scores over the take on his work life. His childhood photographs and home video footage from back then till the present day are thoroughly charming. The romance with Anjali is recounted sweetly and with humour, without for a moment turning mushy or silly as such material can often be. It is also a pleasure to see this intensely private man letting us in on so many decidedly intimate moments of his life. As a viewer, one can only feel gratitude.

This then is Sachin: A Billion Dreams – a film that is not as much as it could have been on some fronts, yet elsewhere is a lot more than it seems to be. It is not an objective biography, yet thankfully it is far from being a hagiography either.

Cricket fans will have their own take on it, but as someone who no longer cares for the game but cares a lot about cinema, I can tell you that despite my disappointment at the rose-tinted view, I came away from the theatre this morning feeling slightly emotional and very inspired. Of course Sachin Tendulkar is not a saint. How many human beings do you know who are? It is impossible though not to learn something from James Erskine’s telling of this extraordinary real-life tale, and from that 16-year-old debutant who turned his natural genius into an unparalleled, record-smashing career that has made him the international hero he is today.

Rating (out of five stars): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
139 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost: