When Lagan, one of the best movies to come out of Bollywood in the last decade, hit the screen like a Yuvraj sixer, we felt all the thrills and tensions of a closely fought one dayer between India and Pakistan. Amir Khan superbly mixed cricket and politics in the rural atmosphere of the early 20th century India. It had all the ingredients we wish and cherish. The fight between the oppressor and oppressed, non-violence movement, seeds of independence struggle, thin under-current of love of the white mem-sahib to the rustic Indian youth. And finally, the Indians win against all odds. God helped with umpteen number of no-balls and wides. In the last over, last ball India wins. If you remember, the last pair was batting, they required six runs with one ball to go and Amir Khan lofted the ball superbly, it was caught at the boundary line, but lo, the fielder, the white sahib, the captain, the villain, had just out-stepped the line and the verdict was not out; runs added six. And we, the Indian team and the Indian viewers, won. The match was between an Indian village team and the white sahibs’ team. The stake was the new tax imposed on the tillers of agricultural land. Of course, when the rulers lost the match, they sportingly abolished the tax.
Fiction writes or rewrites history and I am sure after a few decades, the saga of Lagan would become part of our independent movement. I wrote a novel, Cricket, in the early 90’s. It was before the match fixing years, and was perhaps the first full length novel based on the game in Indian literature. In the novel, I had introduced our Chief Minister and the Opposition leader trying to make political capital out of the match and both try to establish distant blood connection with the debutant malayali cricketier Unni. Now it is not only the politicians, but all super stars in cinema, business and industry jump to the cricket wagon. It is not money or power alone. Something more? A charisma? Or is it vote? I don’t know.
But there is something in cricket that we don’t find elsewhere? What is it? It is simple and straight. India has the best of billionairs and the poorest of poor in the world IIM boys get placement jobs at salaries of 150 million rupees a year and the Indian farmer is committing suicide as he could not cope up with a loan of 20 thousand after a year’s labor. The latter is only half day’s wage of the fresher. But both are cricket crazy. For the poor in India, cricket is a replica of his life. Decades back, once BBC asked India’s super star Amitabh Bachan as to why an intellectual and highly educated artist like him takes up roles that are clearly unrealistic, irrational and simply foolish. He replied quite seriously. My films are for the poor Indian masses. They have nothing except hope for a better life, in this world if possible. They are sure that they would get it in the next world, but they hope for a lucky break in this life itself. I personify their hope. I play the simple character who has done well in this life itself fighting against all odds. They all want to sing and dance and fight the wicked. I do the same on the screen. And they are happy and satisfied.
Amitabh Bachan and Sachin Tendulkar. Both are real Indian heroes for the masses. Our aspirations personified. But Sachin is not acting. And that is where we find the real answer to the acceptance of cricket as the most popular medium identifying our life. Just watch a shot. Shoib Akhtar is breathing hard, he waits, brushes the ball in his hip, the shine is better, looks at the batsman readying up about 75 metres ahead, and starts his run. Sachin Tendulkar, the short man, almost of our height, a troubled childish look on his face lifts his face, and watches the oncoming tornado. We know anything can happen now. Anything. The only surety is that there is nobody to help Sachin on the field when he is facing the onslaught now except his own ability and determination. Even those qualities may not be enough. He needs luck also to survive and succeed. Eleven opponents. Two umpires in the field and two in the pavilion, watching his every step. And thousands of spectators roaring for the kill. You have a partner on the other end ready to help you. But he cannot do much. Maximum he can keep you from run-out problems. Is it not a replica of life? Real life? The modern life where you are all alone when you are to face any problem? You have a partner, but she or he can help only to a very limited extent, almost like not getting you run out through her/his mistake. You have education, talent, intelligence, physical and mental health and grit and determination to succeed. So you are facing the world. Still you don’t know. You may or may not succeed. You may be out in the first ball itself or you may go on to make a century.
We are Sachin. We can be out with this ball or we can hit a sixer. The ball can be wide, or a no ball. It can touch the pads and go for leg bye to the boundary line. Lucky. The ball can grace the bat go near the slip fielder. Luck. He drops it.
We win and move ahead. We wait for the next delivery.
Cricket is our life, our hope and our dreams.
Pawarji and Anil Ambani. Shah Rukh and Vijay Mallya. How can we blame these dream merchants?