Period sports drama: B-Town's new winning trick
New-age Bollywood recognised the power of the period sports movie when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's 2013 film, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag," became a superhit. Based on the life of Milkha Singh, who is known as The Flying Sikh, the film smartly mixed an emotional story of Partition pangs with a coming-of-age melodrama and, of course, the thrills of sporting action
Simply making a period movie is not enough anymore. Not unless you have a budget that can give a Mughal emperor some serious complex. In turn, mega budgets bring an obvious pitfall - the guarantee of recording a blockbuster diminishes just that much.
So, Bollywood has slowly started thinking laterally, to sustain the period flick. One of the most lucrative - therefore favourite - genres that have emerged is the sports drama seeped in history. A handful of recent hits have proved that a historic sporting incident, or a legendary sporting icon of the past, makes for an instant winner at the box-office, combining the pride of patriotism and the love for sports.
If "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" and "Gold" have been among films in the genre that underlined that fact for the Bollywood moneybags, there is plenty more to come.
New-age Bollywood recognised the power of the period sports movie when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's 2013 film, "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag," became a superhit. Based on the life of Milkha Singh, who is known as The Flying Sikh, the film smartly mixed an emotional story of Partition pangs with a coming-of-age melodrama and, of course, the thrills of sporting action. The movie was honoured with two national awards. The 2018 Akshay Kumar-starrer "Gold", based on India's first gold medal win as an independent nation at the 1948 Olympics in hockey, did average business, but the intrigue factor it raised was enough for other producers to understand the power of the genre.
In the coming months, Bollywood goes full steam with the genre of the period sports drama. The film that has overwhelmingly been in the news for a while now - although its release date is in April 2020 - is Kabir Khan's "'83", about India's first-ever cricket World Cup win in 1983. Ranveer Singh essays Kapil Dev, who captained the team, while Deepika Padukone plays Kapil's wife, Romi. Other team members are played by actors like Tahir Raj Bhasin, Harddy Sandhu, Jiiva, Sahil Khattar, Chirag Patil and Ammy Virk, among others. Boman Irani plays Farokh Engineer while Pankaj Tripathi essays the team manager. The film is expected to hit theatres in April next year. The "'83" unit has just completed its London schedule.
Ajay Devgn's "Maidaan," the shoot for which has recently started, and John Abraham's "1911", which has recently been announced are other films in the genre coming up.
"Maidaan" chronicles the journey of the legendary footballer Syed Abdul Rahim, who was also the coach and manager of the Indian national football team from 1950 until his death in 1963. While Ajay Devgn plays Syed Abdul Rahim, Gajraj Rao, South actress Keerthy Suresh and Bengali actor Rudranil Ghosh are also a part of the period drama. The Amit Sharma directorial has begun shooting from this month and is expected to release next year.
Filmmaker Nikkhil Advani has recently announced that he will be directing the period sports drama "1911", which is set in pre-independence India. The film tells the magnificent story of Mohun Bagan's historic IFA shield win against East Yorkshire Regiment in the year 1911.
In each of these films - just as "Gold", "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" or "Chak De! India" some time before - the winning formula that the makers aim to strike is the combination of patriotism and sporting action.
In "1911" for instance, the glory that the Indian club Mohun Bagan achieved does not just lie in just winning the shield. As the barefooted Indian eleven beat much better-equipped British team, the incident is widely regarded as an important moment that sparked off India's movement. A biopic of late hockey legend Dhyan Chand is also reportedly on the cards, where Varun Dhawan might play the lead.
Scriptwriter Rohan Shankar, who recently created waves writing "Luka Chuppi", finds another reason behind the trend. "In Bollywood, filmmakers are going out of their way to find interesting stories. There have been many successful sports personalities in India in the past. So, Indian actors have also started taking interest in sports dramas," he said.
Talking about the trend, trade analyst Amod Mehra said: "Lack of stories leads to such experimenting. One or two sports dramas such as 'Mary Kom' and 'MS Dhoni' worked, but then 'Gold' was average. I cannot say whether it is a trend, but I feel because there is a lack of stories, biopics are in for sure. So, a lot of movies are being planned on those who are famous in the world of sports. They make for good stories because
the theme is always an underdog winning big."
The underdog element, of course, works for films based on contemporary sporting heroes, too. Hits of recent times, such as "Dangal" (2016), "Mary Kom" (2014), "Soorma" (2018) and "MS Dhoni: The Untitled Story" (2016) evidence that fact.
However, when there is the right blend of history and sports, the lure for the buffs becomes just that much more stronger.