By Sarwar Alam
SACHIN Tendulkar was the heartbeat of India for nearly quarter of a century. A nation of 1.3 billion lived vicariously through him every time the national treasure stepped on to the hallowed 22 yards of a cricket field.
When Sachin was playing, be it at the Wankhede Stadium in his hometown of Mumbai, or Lord’s in London or the MCG in Melbourne, or the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg… he belonged to Indians throughout the world.
However, away from the field, very few people knew Sachin the man, the son, the brother, the husband and the father. He guarded his private life and for someone who was in the limelight for so long, very few people knew of Sachin’s life once he had left the crease.
In Sachin: A Billion Dreams, Emmy-nominated director James Erskine, immerses himself into the world of Sachin, delving into the heart and mind of India’s greatest sporting icon. From a young boy being taught how to bat by his father, Erskine takes us on a journey which sees Sachin come full circle when he teaches his son Arjun his craft.
Erskine explains that he didn’t just want to make “another Bollywood biopic”, rather he wanted to take the audience on an “emotional journey” into the real world of Sachin.
“It’s a feature film that explores him (Sachin) in all manner of different guises on the big screen. We have all manner of different footage, from dramatisation to home movies,” he says.
“Whenever you are making a film for cinema, whatever genre it maybe, my guiding principle is it has to be about emotion. The films that work are the films that make you feel something. Whether you feel depressed or elated, how you arc that emotional journey is key.”
Erskine says the film “is about how a man became a god, but this is also about the man inside. What’s his life? What’s it like to be him? How does he operate? What’s his relationship with his children? How does he fall in love? What’s his relationship with his parents? How does he not lose himself? It’s a very human story.
“I would say the film’s strength and journey is whilst there is some sport in it, the film is about getting backstage with Sachin. India seeing Sachin, who is a private man as we know, seeing him once he steps into the dressing room, once he steps into the car, they haven’t been with him as an eight-year-old boy learning from his father.”
Erskine is a known director on British television, having helmed episodes of EastEnders, Holby City, Robin Hood and Waterloo Road. He has also made his name as a prolific filmmaker of sports documentaries.
Among them are One Night in Turin (about England’s memorable draw with Italy in the World Cup 98 qualifier) and Battle of the Sexes (about the historic tennis match between male star Bobby Riggs and the legendary female icon Billie Jean King).
Erskine says he nurtured a wish to make a film on Sachin, but always felt “it would be impossible to reach out from London and do it the right way”.
So when producer Ravi Bhagchandka approached him to do it, Erskine had no hesitation, but realised straight away that he had a mammoth task on his hands in telling Sachin’s story properly.
“For the audience going to see it, Sachin is in their hearts already. Normally you make a film about somebody, a real person, it’s in their heads or they don’t know much about them. But everybody sort of owns a little bit of Sachin. So the challenge for me making this film is to make it very emotional and that it connected to people’s hearts as much as their heads. The film should be able to respond to anybody of any level – it’s about your feelings for a man through his journey.”
Erskine explains, “Sachin’s journey is India’s journey”.
The film follows Sachin and India from the 1980s, when India was taking its early tentative steps on to the global stage, to Sachin’s retirement in 2013, by which time India had evolved into a global superpower.
“I think the challenge of making a film about Sachin is that he is such a good man. He’s such a hero. He’s such an icon. He’s so important to Indian identity. That’s one of the things the film looks at. The past 30 years mirrors that journey of India. Sachin’s journey is in a way India’s journey itself over 30 years. The forefront of the change in media, the change in economy, and (Sachin) was a real trailblazer.
“Sachin’s story isn’t just a sports story. He’s not just another athlete. I think he is unique in global history. I don’t think there has ever been a period in time where you can create an icon in such a way as Sachin. His emergence aged 16. The boy genius, the boy god, coming in on a flickery screen.
“This boy who is doing amazing feats for your country. For your country which is still quite a young country. Indians are very proud of being Indian and he encapsulates that. In a period of media and population explosion, I don’t think there has ever been a period in time when somebody in their lifetime has been loved by so many people. I think that’s phenomenal. I think it’s more phenomenal than a politician. That’s why this film reaches out (to so many people).”
Having spent so much time with Sachin, Erskine has an intimate knowledge of the man and reveals that it’s Sachin’s humility and dedication to his craft which has made him one of the most respected figures around the world.
“Sachin came to prominence very young. He really understood from a young age that the craft was more important than the ego. He came with an understanding of humility,” says Erskine.
“Maybe if he had come to fame later it may have affected him in a different way or in a different era it may have affected him in a different way. I think he fundamentally
would’ve been the same man as he religiously focused on craftsmanship, tradition, and how you conduct yourself.”
Erskine also explains the impact that Sachin’s family had on his journey, saying: “His father was very wise and he came from a very traditional Indian family in many ways. He didn’t come from money. His father was very intelligent and he was lucky to be surrounded by older siblings who were very supportive.
“Part of the journey of the film is he starts out as a son and he becomes a father and symbolically he becomes a greater father than that. Childhood and fatherhood are very big themes in the movie.”
Sachin: A Billion Dreams is released on Friday, May 26th.