Main Hoon Shahid Afridi: Can You Capture Cricket in a Film?

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Main Hoon Shahid Afridi: Can You Capture Cricket in a Film?

It’s the last ball of the match.

Five runs needed. The crooked tail-ender is on strike. Captain and top-scorer standing helpless and frustrated at the non-striker’s end. Realisation has all but sunk into the crowd. Dejection outweighs optimism.

The last two balls had fetched a mere single, so hope has already evaporated under the scorching sun. At stake is not only the result but also your village’s future—win and you don’t pay land tax for three years, but, if you lose, the tax is tripled. What’s worse is that the villagers don’t know how to play cricket.

The action slows down. Emotions, adrenaline, excitement and the climax reach tipping point. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, a Bollywood classic incorporating cricket into the wider problems during the British Raj, replicates a nerve-wracking end to a match.

Here’s the last ball:

Bollywood did try and add spice with Dil Bole Hadippa (Heart Says Hurray), bringing a welcome change to its storyline as a girl dreams of playing cricket on the biggest stage, and Pakistan’s movie directors worked around Shahid Afridi’s rise to release Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (I Am Shahid Afridi). But none of them, not even Lagaan, revolve around the sport itself. It’s the sport that revolves around the storyline, giving it a healthy serving of something close to reality that the audience that relate to.

In his latest piece on ESPNCricinfo, Ed Smith quotes his father, a novelist: "Cricket action is very hard to dramatise convincingly. It's hard to capture the pace and the tempo of cricket.”

But what of the individuals? The rags to riches angle that Hollywood adores and hands out Oscars to. To name a few Pakistanis, Younus Khan didn’t have enough bus fare to get to the ground; Anwar Ali (of the U-19 fame) used to iron socks in a factory to contribute to household income; Tauseef Ahmed used to spend his days sitting at a paan stall before literally being plucked from obscurity. Eddo Brandes was a chicken farmer before becoming one of the best that Zimbabwe had produced. The list expends borders, these are just a few I know of.

Main Hoon Shahid Afridi is "quite ludicrous in its construction" and gets a thumbs-down in this review from Ahmer Nqvi on ESPNCricinfo. Here’s an excerpt from the review that sums up the technical side of the film:

The remarkably funny and sharp dialogue is recorded in a way as to make it seem to belong to an error-strewn student film. The colour correction is similarly jarring, displaying as much logic as a typical Afridi innings, often completely changing tones mid-scene... Many of the plot lines are lazily developed and hastily resolved. Nevertheless the depleted nature of Pakistani cinema's intellectual, technical and financial resources requests, if not demands, a level of charitableness in opinion.

We need all that, right? On the pitch, a century is remembered by the circumstances surrounding it, the opposition, the strokeplay and the player himself. It’s the whole package. But where is that package and why aren’t there enough films on cricket?

Formula One, boxing, football, baseball have gone ahead and done it. But, like Smith suggests in his piece, perhaps the lack of one-on-one opportunity, the duels, the "two men fighting, almost to the death" aspect that the sport doesn’t offer is the reason behind it. Surely you can plot the lives of individuals, especially now that Afghanistan's team has almost made it to the biggest stage.

This is what a Shoaib Akhtar delivery did to Gary Kirsten. Can Akhtar and Kirsten's emotions be replicated on screen?

But putting the individual journey, the struggle and the exertion aside, can cricket as a sport be captured in a film? Maybe from the days of never-ending Test matches to the billion-dollar industry that is Twenty20 cricket. Add in some spot-fixing and lust for cash, and a helicopter being allowed to land at Lord’s, and you have some kicks. But that will just add as an extension to the sport, failing to paint the sport’s true colours, retaining its sanctity and appealing to a bigger audience.

Cricket isn’t even a global sport, and the International Cricket Council doesn’t want it to become one. The Cricket World Cup fails to create the waves that its football counterpart does with minimum effort. The participants are less in number, the followers don’t even compare. To others, it is religion and Sachin Tendulkar is god. But try explaining that phenomenon, the feeling and the goose bumps to someone in South America or mainland Europe. 

The problem in capturing cricket in a film is the logistics as well. Do you play cricketers as stars or stars as cricketers? Actors can’t play and players can’t act. Rani Mukherjee did take cricket lessons ahead of her role, but will Aamir Khan be able to deliver as silky a cover drive as Tendulkar, or will someone be able to replicate Imran Tahir’s wicket celebrations?

Will the sweat collecting under the helmet be the outcome of grit, determination and resolve or will it as fake as many feel the BCCI’s efforts are to clean up the IPL? How would you sum up the emotions and thoughts inside a fielder’s head as he runs in for a catch. Former Pakistan fast-bowler Aqib Javed tries describing those feelings here, but how will those thoughts be dramatised and made appealing to the viewers?

The problems will exist with all sports films. But with cricket in the minority, the task is just that more difficult.

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