Blast From The Past Movies

A different ball game

A COURAGEOUS VENTURE Director Prakash Jha   | Photo Credit: Anu_Pushkarna

For a long, long time, Hindi films based on sports as a genre were a rarity. It required the unwavering conviction and vision of a young debutant director, Prakash Jha, to make Hip Hip Hurray in 1983, with Raj Kiran and Dipti Naval in the lead. The landmark film had its script, dialogues and lyrics penned by none other than Gulzar. It says volumes of Jha’s courage as a filmmaker that he took football, instead of the national favourites, cricket and hockey.

Interestingly, “Hip Hip Hurray” was almost an accidental film. In his book, “40 Retakes: Bollywood Classics You May Have Missed”, film critic Avijit Ghosh discloses that Jha was more interested in making “Damul” (1985), a moving tale of bonded labourers, that won him plenty of awards two years later. But he was unable to find finance for the project. In the meantime, he became friendly with producer Manmohan Shetty, who had built a reputation of producing small, meaningful films, such as “Chakra”. Over a game of squash, Jha narrated the story to Shetty and he liked it and found some commercial possibilities in the tale of sportsmanship.

It was originally planned with Anil Kapoor and Shabana Azmi, but when the two backed out because of different reasons, Jha turned to Raj Kiran and Deepti Naval in a hurry.

Poster of the film “Hip Hip Hurray”

Poster of the film “Hip Hip Hurray”  

Interesting narrative

Jha spins an interesting narrative, wherein a Bombay based engineer, Sandeep (a credible Raj Kiran, performing an understated role, shorn of histrionics) who is also a sports aficionado, takes the job of a sports teacher in a school in distant Ranchi on a temporary basis, as he awaits the result of an interview back home. The post is vacant for several months, and nobody in the school, including the faculty, cares for sports, thinking of it as an unnecessary distraction.

Predictably, when Sandeep tries to set things right, not only is he met with resistance from other teachers, but a section of unruly students, led by an intransigent Raghu (Nikhil Bhagat – apt in the role of a brooding school boy, who has failed four times in the same class). The only support for Sandeep in this hostile environment is Anuradha (Dipti Naval – a role tailor made for her, similar to ones she had already essayed in preceding years – “Saath-Saath”, “Katha”, “Rang Birangi” and “Chashme Buddoor”).

The film tracks the trials and tribulations of Sandeep, as he successfully builds the school football team from scratch, to take on the mighty opposition, with a haughty coach at the helm (played by veteran theatre artiste Shafi Inamdar; espousing requisite meanness).

Apart from powerful performances, old timers still remember the film for Gulzar’s evocative songs and the background score by Vanraj Bhatia.

After a hiatus of eight years, (although in between there was Dev Anand’s forgettable parody on cricket, Awwal Number) the next credible sports film, again set in the backdrop of school life in Dehradun, was “Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar” made by Mansoor Khan. Essentially, the film deals with sport being the great leveller, and talent triumphing over privilege. Aamir Khan (as Sanjay), his elder sibling, Ratan (Marmik Singh) and Anjali (a very effective and pretty Ayesha Jhulka) go to Model College, which is sneered by students of the upmarket Rajput College, led by Shekhar Malhotra (Deepak Tijori). The underdogs are made to feel inferior as they are consistent losers in the annual marathon bicycle race, not due to lack of talent or commitment but due to inferior equipment they are forced to use due to economic constraints. The jinx is broken by a born again Sanjay, who is forced to participate in the race after his elder brother, the original participant, has to forego due to injury.

Aamir Khan in “Lagaan”

Aamir Khan in “Lagaan”  

The genre was pushed to the next level in 2001, by Ashutosh Gowariker, who directed Aamir Khan in “Lagaan”. This time the game was cricket, and the landscape – the dust bowls of the Central Provinces in British India. The story, conceptualised by Gowariker, brings forth the undying human spirit of survival and the audacity of hope, as the motley group of villagers from a tiny village, Champaner, led by a gutsy young man, Bhuvan (essayed to near perfection by Aamir Khan) takes on the elite team of the British cantonment, and beats them at their own game. Aamir Khan and Mansoor Khan displayed exemplary risk taking capacity in having produced the film, which had an unusual and somewhat far-fetched plot.

Thereon, films based on the genre were made at regular intervals, although many used sports only as a backdrop, without delving into the psyche of the protagonists or intricacies of the game.


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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 2:35:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/a-different-ball-game/article23979316.ece

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