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Bollywood has had a fair share of sports movies in the last 20 years, and we decided to list them down for your weekend movie bucket list. Here’s the best of Bollywood Sports movies, and why we love them:
This Amir Khan starrer pioneered a spate of sports movies in the country. Of course, Lagaan was no quintessential sports movie. Ashutosh Gowariker created magic with his simple, rural folks, who had to win a cricket match against the British, so that their taxes would be exempted. The ‘coach’ was a Victorian Lady, who at best, translated the rules to an uninitiated population. The result was improbable, and idealistic.
But, in its time, the movie inspired the same adrenaline rush that a live match does in India. We remember being in the theaters, to people doing a Mexican wave during the match scenes. There was whistling and cheering for all the boundaries scored. It was one of the earliest attempts, by a mainstream movie, at uniting a nation with sports pride.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, from India. It did not win, possibly due to its length, and editing limitations. But, it was the Bollywood movie that heralded to the west that Bollywood was capable of making impressive narratives.
Chak De! India
Shah Rukh Khan, the King of Romance in Bollywood, donned the de-glammed avatar of the national women’s hockey team, in this inspirational sports movie. Hockey, the national sport of India, had long lost its appeal to the old nation, by the time this movie was launched. Cricket had long-overshadowed hockey, and almost all other sport in India, in the last few decades of the 20th century. On top of that, this movie revolved around a woman’s team – an idea that could only be called ‘brave’ in the sexist India of 2007.
To everyone’s surprise, though, the movie was a super success. SRK, a college-level hockey player, pulled off the role with a quiet aplomb. It is, arguably, his most impressive performance to date. But, what was impressive was the amount of training that underwent to coach the newbie actresses to look like convincing hockey players. Some of them were originally national level players, and were coached on acting. The others were trained and put on an athelete’s diet for four months prior to shooting, under the tutelage of hockey players Mir Ranjan Negi, and ex Chief National Coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik. The attention to detail showed on the frames.
The influence of Bollywood on India was reinforced, when this movie rekindled India’s love for hockey. It also started a conversation around the apathy towards Women’s Sports in the country.
Rahul Bose’s directorial debut, along with the young, and fresh, Aditi Inamdar, stole our hearts. Poorna is a rural teenager who aspires to climb Mt Everest. The movie beautifully depicts her journey, the obstacles that she faced in a sexist, uneducated society.
Poorna was made with the sole focus of putting the spotlight on the protagonist, rather than distracting the audience with glamour, and an overpowering star cast. Rahul Bose admittedly auditioned 109 girls, before finalizing Aditi. She did complete justice, in return. Almost all Indian Sports movies have focused on the obstacle of bureaucratic apathy, but this one really hits the nail in the head. The movie was a silent, but powerful statement on gender equality and empowerment, in a country that needs to be jolted with the realities, from time to time.
Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom’s life is an inspiration to quote for eternity. Her autobiography, Unbreakable, narrates her gargantuan struggle with the simplicity of her own words. Unfortunately, the movie by Omung Kumar, while being a decent mainstream bolly flick, misses the mark on the same level of sensitivity to the life of this great sportsperson.
One of the greatest critiques of this movie is the casting of Priyanka Chopra, in a role of a North East Indian. The casting also ensured that there was more attention given to the star playing the part, than the sports legend she was representing. Nevertheless, the commercial success of the film ensured there was some deserved attention paid to Mary Kom. That, if nothing else, makes it one of the better sports movies of the country.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
Inspired from the life of one of the foremost athletes of India, Milkha Singh, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag is a moving narrative of the sportsperson’s life. Of course, it has melodramatic exaggerations, commensurate to a epic Bollywood tribute. But, ROP Mehra used the artistic license sensitively, keeping the importance of the sporting moments intact.
Farhan Akhtar, true to his character acting techniques, trained well and depicted the struggles and achievements of the athlete realistically. Milkha Singh reportedly sold the film rights for one rupee, on condition that a profit percentage would be shared with his Trust, which helps needy sportspeople.
MS Dhoni – The Untold Story
This biographical movie about the last Indian cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, received huge accolades and a surge of positive reviews. Sushant Singh Rajput tried hard to imitate MSD’s stances, and mannerisms, and was mostly successful in doing so. Even though it is a 190 min long movie, the movie doesn’t seem to drag or bore.
The movie could have focused more on the political tensions that Dhoni must have faced during his tenure. Instead, it safely traipsed around his love life a little more than one would expect from a sports movie. But, then, what’s a Bollywood hero without a couple of romantic songs to dance to! One of the things that need to be called out about the movie, is the use of CGI to make Sushant’s face look acceptable as a teenager. The movie also used a lot of real match footage, and fit Sushant right in where Dhoni was IRL. That was an interesting progress for Bollywood.
Iqbal is possibly one of Bollywood’s most sensitive movies, based on cricket. While Sports form sthe core of this inspiring tale, at heart, it is a story of relationships, and mentorship. This National Award winning movie narrates the tale of the cricket obsession, of a mute and deaf boy village boy. Under the tutelage of a recovering alocoholic, the boy achieves his impossible dream of playing for the national team. Watch this one to see Shreyas Talpade and Naseeruddin Shah in action. It’s magical!
Paan Singh Tomar
It’s hard to classify it as a sports film, and yet, not fair to give it a miss. Based on a true story of an athlete, who won a gold medal at the National games, joined the army, and later became a bandit, the story takes us through several emotions. Irrfan Khan’s stellar performance in the lead role won him the Best Actor in the National Awards. The film also won the Best Feature Film award that year.
The latest addition in the list is again from Amir Khan and the young Fatima Sana Shaikh. Amir played the role of a strict father-cum-coach of the wrestler sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat. The film became a blockbuster hit and is the first Indian film to gross $300 million worldwide. Read our detailed analysis of Dangal here.
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