My top cricketing joke of all time is about Sunil Gavaskar. The little master comes to know that there is an Australian film called Gavaskar, out to release soon. He is taken by surprise—though he understands the sentiment, given how he played some of his best cricket against those fierce competitors—and is particularly overcome because India hasn’t yet made a Gavaskar biopic while Australia is readily doffing its baggy green cap. He hasn’t been invited to the premiere, but he flies himself down in his best tuxedo, and goes in to see what they have to see about his legendary life and career.
Nothing. Befuddled, Sunny walks out of an incredibly Australian film featuring boomerangs, dingos and bad beer—but no sign of cricket. “Where was I?” he asks, outraged. “This isn’t even a sporting film! How can a film called Gavaskar have nothing to do with me?” “Aha,” say the Australians gleefully. “Now you know what Allan Border went through in the 1990s.”
I was in school when I heard that joke, and it continues to amuse me—its strike-rate may vary for you—but it is undeniably less amusing that we haven’t made great movies about cricket, despite our nation’s disproportionate obsession with the game. There should have been grand sporting films glorifying talented underdogs, but we haven’t made our Raging Bull just yet. There is no worthy cricket television either. I was asked to write about cricket for this World Cup themed issue of Lounge, but a quick glance at streaming platforms shows content that doesn’t even come close to middling the bat.
Inside Edge (Amazon) is a miserably tacky show where a cricketer snorts cocaine off a cheerleader before going out to bat. Selection Day (Netflix) features a few decent actors, but the writing is flat and uninspired, swinging from poor-India tropes to obvious underdog tropes. Then there’s Cricket Fever, Netflix’s show on the Mumbai Indians, a documentary series with “exclusive behind-the-scenes content” that looks so contrived and rehearsed it feels the performing cricketers got several takes to get their candidness right.
What, then, is the good stuff? What can a proper cricket fan properly enjoy? Here, to fill in the gaps between India matches, is what I can recommend:
1. Episode ‘Cricket Corruption’ of ‘The Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj’ (2019, Netflix): We know how corrupt Indian cricketing boards are, and how scandals have left the game in a sickening state of disrepair, but while Minhaj’s latest episode might not be as much of an eye-opener as John Oliver’s memorable Fifa exposé, it nevertheless brings to light a unique problem: that of India wanting to keep the entire cricket pie for itself and preventing its spread to smaller countries.
Minhaj highlights the worrying fact that the World Cup has gone down from 16 teams earlier to 10 teams this year, at the behest of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), which just wants India to feature in more World Cup matches.
The highlight is a rather mad interview with absconding former Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman Lalit Modi—wherein Modi, in an attempt to match Minhaj’s lingo, talks about cops “popping off” and so on—but even he admits to the rot. “Is the BCCI preventing cricket from spreading to smaller countries?” asks Minhaj. “Yes,” says Modi. “Is that bad for the sport?” “Very bad for the sport,” Modi says, conceding that he’s responsible for this gluttony—something so gluttonous even he didn’t see it coming.
2. Fire In Babylon (2010, Hotstar): Fiction isn’t a patch on this glorious story of the West Indies team of the 1970s and 1980s deciding to make cricket their own. Sir Vivian Richards and his almighty conquerors took on racial and ethnic prejudice with an unforgettable swagger, and this must-see documentary captures the intensity and the context wonderfully.
3. Lagaan (2001, Netflix): Sure, the cricketing rules are completely inconsistent and the film is damnably long, but how can you not cheer this definitively ragtag bunch of broken and bewildered players led by Aamir Khan, fighting against an enemy we can all empathize with: tax. In fact, the Oscar-nominated Ashutosh Gowariker film might work better at home than in theatres—you can handily skip all the garbage with the white girl warbling about being in love and get straight down to Rajesh Vivek’s manic slog-shots.
4. Sachin: A Billion Dreams (2017, Sony Liv): This is not an artfully crafted film. There are no narrative flourishes, no inspired playing with linearity, no groundbreaking revelations. This is a straightforward yet invariably evocative time capsule. It is as basic as a film can be, but the lack of storytelling panache may actually provide appropriate contrast to the unreal subject. Which film could possibly live up to that on-drive?
Come on, watch it. This may not be a super film, but—as Virat Kohli said the last time India lifted the World Cup—“we have to do it for Sachin”.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.
He tweets at @rajasen