As Ashok Selvan and Shanthanu Bhagyaraj’s Blue Star gets lauded and Lal Salaam gears up for release, we take a look at the never-ending love affair between cricket and cinema
Last week, the Ashok Selvan and Shanthanu Bhagyaraj-starrer Blue Star was released to positive reception. The film, which was presented by filmmaker Pa Ranjith, is a cricket-based sports feature that did not limit itself to the pitch yard to derive its drama but highlighted the political and social flaws of society hindering aspiring cricket players from achieving their dreams.
While Blue Star might be one of the many sports dramas churned out by Indian cinema, it is an undeniable fact that cinema has been constantly deriving its adrenaline rush through cricket-based films over the years. And with each passing film, the craze for the genre never stops, with only an increasing influx of cricket films. To top it off, Tamil cinema this year will be seeing at least three cricket-based films released: Lal Salaam, Test, and Lubber Pandhu.
The legacy of sports-based dramas is not new to Indian cinema. A brilliant example to reiterate this point is the 2001 Aamir Khan-starrer film Lagaan, which was written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. The film, which was set against the backdrop of British Raj, very much like Blue Star, delved into the battle between the oppressed and oppressor.
If Blue Star, with its Dalit Christian protagonist (Ranjith played by Ashok Selvan), stands up against the caste Hindus and classist cricket club players, determined to play the sport and win, Lagaan, the 2001 Aamir Khan-starrer, was a historical reimagination of the same battle set in a different milieu. It was high on patriotism by staging a match between British Indian officers and villagers, headed by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), who were forced to pay tax to live on their land.
Here, the commonality may be just more than cricket. The bat and ball no longer remain the tools of a gentleman’s game, but one to give a voice in the form of victory. Knocking out of the park perhaps is that one moment of landmark victory that gave Ranjith and Bhuvan a voice, a stage that gives power and attendance to what they say. And this is a classic example of how cricketing dramas have constantly evolved to be just about the three stumps, but more about knocking out social messages off the park, told with a side of sportsmanship and nail-biting finale matches.
Remember the last time you watched an India vs. XYZ match with stressful enthusiasm? But hasn’t the josh been the same all the time? Despite knowing that India might not grab the trophy, scores of Indians were glued to the last World Cup finals against Australia. It can also be attributed to the last-minute lucking outs that the game has to offer. And for the very same reason, the adrenaline rush remains the same when the sport is recreated onscreen, as long as the audience knows that it is staged. Say for example, when 83 still managed to hold people’s attention despite knowing that India would grab the cup.
While Blue Star might just begin the innings of cricket films in Tamil in 2023, let’s not forget how there are as many as three (for now) films awaiting their release this year that will revolve around cricket. They are Lal Salaam, Test and Lubber Pandhu. While the first film is set to release on February 9, the other two have yet to set a release date. But all three of them, from their promotional materials and reports so far, appear to touch upon various pertinent topics.
Lal Salaam, which has Vishnu Vishal and Vikranth playing the lead roles and Rajinikanth making a cameo appearance, has kept its plot under wraps. But the veteran star appearing as Moideen Bhai has piqued interest in how the film may touch upon political tensions that the country is abundantly filled with. On the other hand, Test, will mark producer Sashikanth’s maiden directorial and has Nayanthara, Madhavan, Siddharth, and Meera Jasmine in important roles.
The film is expected to follow the lives of three individuals who must make tough decisions with an important international cricket match ahead. And to balance such heavy subjects, come Harish Kalyan and Attakathi Dinesh’s Lubber Pandhu, which will be a rural-based lighthearted story on street cricket.
Who wouldn’t want to see a person we cheer and be empathetic about, rise to the occasion, and hold their head high while grabbing success? While we await Lal Salaam, Test, and Lubber Pandhu to hit the theatres and see if they indeed give us the adrenaline rush, one thing becomes clear. Sports dramas have always held an evergreen spot in Tamil cinema.
Witnessing success stories like Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu, Sarpatta Parambarai or even the path-breaking Chennai-28, where the underdog wins, the stories not only become a beacon of hope and confidence but also stamp themselves as a never-emptying vessel of fodder for Tamil cinema. As we see a man rising from the ashes, a sixer hit, the cheer remains the same, no matter if it is at an auditorium or within the four walls of the magical silver screen.