‘Sachin: A Billion Dreams’ review: Batsman Returns


As director James Erskine sat down to write the script for Sachin: A Billion Dreams, one can only imagine him grappling with the quintessentially existential questions that must haunt anyone who sets out to make a docu-drama on a much-loved, much-adored, and much-revered personality – what’s to be the POV for this feature? How much do I dip in to adulate the personality? How much do I dig in to remove the stone to reveal the humane side of errors and foibles that invariably crawl out from any façade?  As it turns out, the grapple was short-lived, if at all, for Erskine and co-writer Sivakumar Ananth use the wax of gurgling worship to emanate lux that’s high-intensity.

Which is not to say Sachin isn’t a wonderful experience.  For anyone who’s grown up with the irresistible thrill and anticipation of waiting for Sachin Tendulkar to pad up and shuffle into the ground, this is a must watch. When it’s not adulatory, it’s affectionate, and why not? This country is forever in search of heroes, and Sachin represents one of the last and lasting personas who glued the nation with an addictive adhesive that he unleashed when his bat dipped, flicked, and whacked, every movement on the pitch a new hope, however ephemeral, for cricketing fans. He made fans forget the everyday struggle of eking out a living, for wasn’t he one of us? A regular-boy-turned-cricketing-grandee, who through pure grit and back-breaking focus, tore into record books and broke into lust-houses with equal parts élan and determination.

And this is the POV in the film that’s absolutely riveting and inspirational. Behind every classic, effortless stroke, there were thousands of net-practiced shots; behind every record broken, there were fears to be overcome; behind every win and loss, a family that was truly the pillar of robustness as much as it was a portrait of love and understanding. You marvel at brother Ajit Tendulkar, who was as much part of Sachin’s psyche and personality as much as Sachin himself was, the former becoming, as eerie as it sounds, an extension and core of the latter’s cricketing persona.

Mayuresh Pem, Mikhail Gandhi - bat it
Mayuresh Pem, Mikhail Gandhi: bat it

You also applaud wife Anjali Tendulkar, as she very simply states, how after the very cutesy-cuddly romance, she was almost channelled into the decision of giving up her career in Pediatrics, for there could be no distraction in Sachin’s career. Your eyes go misty as director Erskine takes you into the familial moments where father Ramesh and mother Rajni Tendulkar ensured the child prodigy got all he required to get his big break. There’s a touching shot of the young, tired Sachin on the living room sofa, his father massaging his legs, his aunt feeding him. There’s also his stolid coach, Ramakant Achrekar, who ensured the young lad got from cricket ground to cricket ground on time, pushing him, correcting him, and never praising him.

Sachin is filled with moments that’ll have you swallowing hard, in sheer emotion that’s as relatable as it is filled with pride – the 1996 World Cup montage; the 1999 World Cup where he gets the news that breaks him, and yet strangely makes him come back to the series; the 2011 World Cup that India won; his struggle with bad form and injuries and the manic stubbornness to come back into the game; or, Sachin’s farewell speech that had (those-who-watched-it-live) us teary-eyed back then. Depending on your age demographic, it’s all there for you to relive, revel, rediscover, or discover.

Sachin Tendulkar - the inspiration never flags
Sachin Tendulkar: the inspiration never flags

Where the film fails to light up is in its dogged reluctance to look beyond the haloed hagiography it builds itself into. As it siloes its protagonist on an untouchable pedestal, it also struggles with the sine qua non of a docu-drama – a complete, well-rounded, and at least at times dispassionate look at its subject. Here, there’s no such charade – this is Erskine and co’s Valentine’s gift to Tendulkar. Where, he’s the aspersed one – his removal as the team captain is, as unprofessionally as it was done, where he’s the aggrieved party, his performance be danged; or, earlier, a telling shot where Sachin’s signing autographs, while, seated next to him, a poker-faced, Mohammed Azharuddin looks as if he’ll say “Bah!” any moment now. This is, of course, to portray the runnel of jealousy that had begun to make its way into the team, post Sachin’s sudden and new-found glory.

The film also chooses to gloss over uncomfortable layers – the match-fixing scandal that blemished cricket forever. When Sachin says “How could I comment when I had no inkling?”, you look at the screen a bit in askance, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s portrait doing a jig in front of you for the briefest of moments. Or, Sachin’s relationship with Vinod Kambli  – all the more unfair, because the movie does introduce you to the former’s current bunch of pals, all womb-to-tomb. There are, obviously, no prizes for guessing that there’s mention of Sachin’s love for cars, but not even a furtive reference to a certain Ferrari. And you realize that the movie does not, even for bit, touch anything that Sachin doesn’t want touched. Which is a pity for future generations who’d want to know more about the person.

Sachin Tendulkar - Main Azad Hoon
Sachin Tendulkar: Main Azad Hoon

In the music department, one of my favourite moments is when the camera sweeps across the siblings dancing to Ye Dil Na Hota Bechara (Jewel Thief), to a LP cover featuring Sachin Dev Burman, and how the father named the cricketer after his favorite musician; and of course, Sachin and Anjali’s wedding video album, set to Rahul Dev Burman’s Bade Achche Lagte Hain (Balika Badhu). A.R. Rahman does a good job in spinning the rousing numbers that are de rigueur for such projects. The background score, however, is excitable, ready and raring to go, when some scenes could have used some hushed pieces, or in other places, the solitude of no music that would’ve made the scenes doubly effective.

Because this is a docu-drama, there’s not much of an acting cast (in terms of movie time), but whatever there is, is all good, thanks to casting director, Rohan Mapuskar. Special mention to the absolutely adorable Mikhail Gandhi playing a young Sachin, embodying all the mischievous and impish energy so very superbly. Sachin and Anjali are au naturel in front of the camera, so thankfully there’s no awkwardness or stiffness to mar the proceedings.

Which is why, when Sachin Tendulkar speaks to you, narrating his incredible journey, you can’t help but be inspired, energized, and deeply moved. If you’re struggling with a personal or professional issue, and need a pick-me-up, this movie could be it. For, who else do we have in India who can rouse that high-pitch fervor in us? (And I don’t mean politics at all.) And in that sense, the title of this piece is a misnomer – for the batsman never did go away anywhere, and it doesn’t seem like he will any time soon.

Sachin: A Billion Dreams is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition).

Sachin: A Billion Dreams
 James Erskine Running Time 2h 18 min
Writers James Erskine, Sivakumar Ananth
Stars Sachin Tendulkar, Anjali Tendulkar, Mikhail Gandhi, Mayuresh Pem
Genres Documentary, Biography, Drama

Watch the trailer of Sachin: A Billion Dreams here: