In an early scene in James Erskine’s docu-drama, Sachin Tendulkar’s mother recounts an incident involving a frog in a tiffin box. It is an anecdote that brings a smile to your face and one of the few moments that gives you a sense of intimacy in what is otherwise a sanitised hagiography.
“Sachin – A Billion Dreams” is rather like its subject – politically correct to a fault. A 138-minute re-telling of Sachin Tendulkar’s life and career in his own words, the film is high on nostalgia – with grainy shots of his first matches and interviews and rare home videos that shows him goofing off with his children at home.
But you won’t get an insight into the mind of one of the world’s greatest sportsmen because the film is too busy painting him as a paragon of virtue. In the beginning, there are gratuitous shots of mosques and temples and scenes on the partition of India, accompanied by a solemn voice-over about poverty and India’s troubled past. Erskine seems to start off wanting to juxtapose the rise of Tendulkar to India’s burgeoning economy, but abandons the thought midway.
We have sports historian Boria Majumdar comparing rising tensions in Kashmir in 1989 and Tendulkar facing Pakistani pace bowlers in his first series for India and somehow making them out to be part of the same narrative. There is also a passing mention of WorldTel boss Mark Mascarenhas and his mission to make Tendulkar a pan-India brand.
There is no mention of Tendulkar’s soured relationship with friend Vinod Kambli (the only time Kambli is mentioned is when Tendulkar talks about their record-breaking partnership for Shardashram school), the infamous case of the unpaid Ferrari tax, or the controversial decision by stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid to declare a test innings in Multan with Tendulkar just six runs short of his double century. Even his strained relationship with Mohammad Azharuddin is articulated by others (Harsha Bhogle, Boria Majumdar), with the man himself saying nothing on the issue.
What Erskine does is fill the film with loads of nostalgia. Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s can remember a time when Indian cricket meant Tendulkar. The film is the perfect vehicle, not just to relive Tendulkar’s rousing moments but also track your life and where you were when Tendulkar was at his peak. The moments that really shine through include the story of his courtship with wife Anjali and her struggle to help Tendulkar deal with his failures – two unsuccessful stints as captain and the occasional slump in form. They almost make up for the otherwise strait-jacket approach.
If you ignore the cinematic merit and focus on the film merely as a wistful trip down memory lane, “Sachin – a Billion Dreams” is a fulfilling watch.