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Ek Ticket, Ek Black Coffee: How did Tapsee Pannu become the only woman holding up the flag in movies about sports?

A few notes about men vs women in sports movies after watching Srijit Mukherji directorial Shabaash Mithu

Ek Ticket, Ek Black Coffee: How did Tapsee Pannu become the only woman holding up the flag in movies about sports?

Taapsee Pannu in a still from Shabaash Mithu (Image via YouTube/Screengrab)

  • Manisha Lakhe

Last Updated: 01.59 PM, Jul 19, 2022

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We love the movies, and of course, when we say Cricket is our religion, we really mean it. We make great rom-coms, so the girls can go ooh and aah over SRK, Fawad Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Sid Malhotra and more, but the lads get all the cricket movies: Dhoni, Tendulkar and yes, even Kapil’s Devils get a great, inspiring cricket movie. Women get this paint by numbers sports film with a joyless team that has one aim: Hamara bhi naam hona chahiye.

Like WTF dude! It’s like saying Messi plays football because he wants the goat emoji. You play the game because it gives you joy. You play the game because your feet dance on the field and you have the ball and all you can see is the goal on the other side of the field! You practise hard at the nets so the umpire can announce - Game, set, match! You play chess because you can see the magic in strategy and can push your brain to anticipate any move your opponent can make… 

Even Mary Kom knew, ‘You don’t buy gold, you earn it.’ Dadi Tomar could see nothing but Saand Ki Aankh (Tapsee Pannu) and despite all odds, they won. Then why do I sound like I’m lamenting a lack of inspiring movies for the girls? That’s because I’ve just witnessed the saddest sports cinema that has been made to date. Heck, even Maradona’s downfall was more interesting than what’s passing off as a movie about someone who put women’s cricket in India on the world sports map (aka Mithali Raj). 

What is with calling female sports icons ‘chidiya’ and ‘gauraiya’ and ‘titlee’? I’m taking off on Tapsee Pannu’s answer to a sports journalist called Richard Linklater (Jeejus! I facepalmed when I heard that name!): When you make movies about say Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni, do you have songs that call them peacock, crow, or flamingo? Then why write silly songs about female sports stars being called ‘chidiya’? And that’s where the trouble starts. 

Female sports stars are treated like second-hand jerseys being given to the Indian Women’s cricket team. Their accomplishments on the field are compared with ‘womanly tasks’ like washing clothes, pulling fishing nets, and beating leather. A man in a sports film? Oooh! Give him a gigantic tyre to overturn so you can see his biceps, give him battle ropes so you can see his strength. Oh yes, if you have to show him battle the elements during training, then show him tug boats out of the wild foamy sea. Cinematic images, eh? But women must be shown doing ‘ghar ka kaam’ as training. 

Jaideep Sahni, wherefore art thou? He wrote a fictional but the best female team sports film that India has seen. It inspires everyone to put the country before personal goals. If YRF were to give ‘Chak De India!’ a theatrical re-release, I would gladly go and watch it in the theatres. I am sure Lagaan and Pan Singh Tomar as well as Dhoni will have fans thronging the theatres. But Saand Ki Aankh was so melodramatic - with men in the village saying ‘How could they do such a thing?!’ - I waited for the film to get a release on the OTT platform. Bend It Like Beckham was more real despite the drama of a Punjabi household. But then it’s not an Indian film, is it?

Dangal was a super film even though I was not about to leave everything and join a wrestling team had I been eight, or ten years old. It was a quintessential father coaching his daughters to enter and win a man’s sport that makes for a great watch. He trains them hard and expects the kids to sacrifice everything for the sake of the game. In King Richard, we have seen Will Smith make sacrifices so that his girls can play tennis. King Richard would get beaten up by the local thugs and encounter the Ku Klux Klan many times and was beaten up by them so that his girls could play tennis. Both these fathers are inspiring in their own way. 

Girls' sports films have always had to be the underdog films simply because many Indians still do not believe that there’s a future in sports. Had there been a Ranji-like league for women cricketers, we would have many more Mithus competing for a place in the Indian team. Haryana and Punjab have produced many a sports star, but it’s like ‘shaadi kara do’ becomes a constant battle the women have to face.

Rashmi Rocket (Tapsee Pannu) may not have done anything for the fictional character, but it did bring to notice the horrors that female athletes go through (Just as Dutee Chand had to undergo several humiliating tests to prove that she's a woman). The Mary Kom biopic did bring the troubles she faced with SAI to the forefront. But see, we only make sports biopics about female sportspersons only if they have a hardship story to tell. Buckets of tears accompany a female sportsperson’s story. The coach becomes the hero (and it’s true for Saala Khadoos as well as Chak De!). Toofan and his ilk are shown to suffer physical endurance or as in Sarpatta Parambarai, a maa ki kasam that prevents him from boxing…

I wait for the day when we make a happy, inspiring underdog-who-becomes-a-winner sports movie about a female athlete even if it is fiction. I wait for the day when other female stars will choose to act in those movies and not depend on Tapsee Pannu. Until then female athletes will continue to be called chidiya and titlee

About the author:
Manisha Lakhe writes on films and TV shows, is a poet, teacher, traveller and mom (and not necessarily in that order). Could sell her soul for Pinot and a good cheesecake.

(Disclaimer: Views expressed in the above article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OTTplay. The writer is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.)

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