83

I rest my case before I even commence.  
While I watched this movie not just once, but twice, in the theatres, Barby was just as keen to do so as I was — and it is a film about cricket!  What’s more, when I watched it a third time on Netflix yesterday — strictly for research purposes she was willingly there alongside me, enjoying the scenes again.
What greater recommendation could there be?

Here are five things I enjoyed about the movie:

The Viv soundtrack

I have to start here, simply because this is the place to which I will return, again and again.  No one will ever be able to swipe the smile off my face at the scene when the West Indies team sweeps through Heathrow, with Viv at the front.  In a great touch from the director, the same soundtrack reappears when Viv goes out to bat.  Today it is hard to convey the aura, the magical aura, of the West Indies cricket team back then, with Viv as its leading personality.  The film re-captures it so well.

The story

All I can say, is “What took them so long?”.  It is one of the great underdog sports stories.  The West Indies won the first two World Cups in a canter and were expected to waltz to victory in this one as well.  Ironically, it is the one cricket World Cup about which I have no memory at all.  We were living in a cricket-free zone (ie the USA!) at the time and I was being led astray into the world of baseball and the Chicago Cubs.  I have since repented of such sporting prodigality.

There is a raucous effervescence in the story-telling, with all the (melo)drama and emotion one expects from Bollywood.  And in the hands of the maestro himself, Arjit Singh, the music swells and soars.  

Here, let’s allow the trailer to do its work…

The fabric of India

Bollywood has this capacity to weave together the threads of real life in India, often highlighting its social issues, and amidst the melodrama and music to convey a serious message along the way.

There is so much to enjoy about India…  
From the flickering tube lights, to the disobedient TV aerials and on to the shouting “Hello” at each other at both ends of a faltering telephone line — ahh, there are some delightful touches.  
Then there is the food.  The Indian team leaves an Indian airport with bottles and bottles of pickle/achaar to assist with the bland food in England — and then later we see them stroking it onto bread like peanut butter.  Back home mother hands out the sweets/mithai after her boy, Kapil Dev, hits a world record score (just as I handed them out when my granddaughter, Amaliya “rhymes with Himalaya”, was born).  The dosa scene, in which three members of the team take up the offer of hospitality from a family of fans with an eye on marrying their daughter to one of the players, is a classic.  When Srikkanth, the prospective son-in-law, exclaims that five dosas are enough, the prospective mother-in-law responds, “Please don’t count — this is your home only”.
The movie has fun with the Sikh/sardar in the team, often the source of humour in India — and yes, let’s be honest, it is more making fun of, than with.  Interesting that in preparing for the film, it is this same Sikh player (Balwinder Singh Sandhu) who I understand coached, ever so patiently, the actors into getting bowling actions correct…
But the serious messages are there… 
At one point in the film a character affirms that “some events wipe out all differences and unite hearts”.  This is what cricket has often done in India, a country that has all the complexity and diversity of Europe — but then is heading towards three times the population.  As the story gains momentum we glimpse this unity as people gather around a radio, or a TV, to watch the games — be it an entire village, or an army outpost in Kashmir, or on the platform of a train station, or in a bulging street-side dhaba/restaurant, or around the birth of a child — even a wedding is interrupted with news from the cricket.  The director wanted to relive 1983 with his audience.  I reckon he succeeded. 
Every Bollywood film seems to help the Western eye to see an honour:shame society at work.  It is here as well.  The patronising attitude of the (British) coloniser is also a thread weaving its way through the story.  There are those who would argue that it is this World Cup victory that helped India find a fresh confidence on the global stage. 


Kapil Dev’s leadership

Kapil is the 24 year old captain of the Indian team.  He goes on to become one of the great all-rounders in the history of the game, playing at the same time as Pakistani Imran Khan (currently their prime minister), Englishman Ian Botham and New Zealander Richard Hadlee.
But here, he is just 24 years of age.  Astonishing.  Bollywood A-lister, Ranveer Singh, plays Kapil in the movie.  He does a great job.  Kapil’s English is poor and the source of a steady stream of gentle mocking.  He is shy, maybe even a bit reluctant in aspects of leadership, especially with ‘seven seniors’ in the team.  He is not from one of the cricketing power bases in India.  But he sets the standard and lives it.  He is that blend of the inspirational and the aspirational.  There are shades of that Good to Great thesis and the way humility and stubbornness mingles in the lives of effective leaders. 
It is a wonderful case study in leadership which I hope is used often, especially in the Indian context — but not just India because hints of nepotism and narcissism, wrapped up in the authoritarian ‘big man’, can afflict us all. 

The details

There will be inaccuracies in the details of the movie.  But as someone who remembers the players, I was amazed at how the actors managed to get bowling actions, mannerisms and personality so accurate.  For example, both Kapil Dev and the West Indian, Malcolm Marshall, had such unique bowling actions that must be difficult to replicate.  I understand Ranveer practised four hours a day for up to seven months to get it right.  In Marshall’s case, the situation might have been helped by the fact that his character is played by his son!
The seamless inclusion of historic footage into a movie like this is always fun. And at one point, the real Kapil Dev is in the crowd and in the final scenes, a little boy called Sachin makes a few appearances.
But there is one more detail on which I’d like to comment…
The Amarnath family is part of cricketing royalty in India.  Lala, the father, played for India — as did two of his sons, Mohinder and Surinder.  Mohinder is prominent in this story, as the vice-captain of India.  In another thread in the fabric of Indian life, we glimpse the respect — even fear, in this case — for parents as Lala and Mohinder communicate through the film (with Lala played by the real life Mohinder!).  
For me it surfaced again one of the sadnesses in the South Asian story — the way Partition divided a people.  Lala Amarnath was from a Hindu family in Lahore and is at the center of one my favourite stories — in Wounded Tiger, a History of Cricket in Pakistan (link here).  Permit me to repeat some of what I wrote again here:
“But the story flows the other way as well. One of the early captains of India, Lala Amarnath, was a Hindu from Lahore. He had to leave. In the very first test between India and Pakistan, the two captains (Kardar and Amarnath) ‘would have understood each other very well’:

They had been brought up in the same same city, played as boys on the same streets, represented the same clubs, and tested their skills against the same players. They spoke the same language, ate the same food, and wore the same clothes. But for accident of religion and history, Amarnath and Kardar would have been on the same side (70).

Years later (1978), when Amarnath returned to Pakistan with the Indian team as a commentator, a Mercedes was waiting at the Lahore airport. The manager of the Indian team thought it was for him – but, no, it was for ‘Lala-sahib’ – being welcomed back to his hometown. Still today, at a national level there is conflict and tension across the border – but at a personal level there can be real affection.”

nice chatting
Paul

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About Me

paul06.16

the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.

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