Cinema has been the one binding force that possesses the power to unite nations through the guise of entertainment. It holds the string to weave stories and urge emotions and stir in us the latent passion we all possess for sports. Over the past decade, Indian cinema has shrugged off its cape of focussing on cricket and donned that of other, lesser-known sports. The driving force in the cinema of the past decade when it came to sports-centric movies has largely been athlete-driven with biographies and historically relevant sporting achievements being the order of the last ten years.
Sports movies, inevitably find a way to inspire and motivate us and knits together people through the common thread of the love for sports. While there have been many spectacular movies, The Bridge takes a look at the ten movies that have made a mark for themselves and helped in their own little way to transform and give a more holistic view of the sporting ecosystem of our nation. The numbering, however, is not given according to the rankings.
#10 Egaro: The Immortal Eleven (Bengali, 2011, directed by Arun Roy)
Director Arun Roy embarks on an ambitious journey to revisit the historic 29th July, 1911 IFA Shield win by eleven barefooted Mohun Bagan players over the East Yorkshire Regiment. Roy, for a debut venture, deserves to be lauded for the gutsy choice of showcasing the spirit of the freedom struggle of India through the emotionally pregnant football match. The massive win, a first by any native team, caused a turnaround in the scheme of things and helped revamp and boost the struggle for Independence.
#9 Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi, 2012, directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia)
Made on a shoestring budget, Paan Singh Tomar saw Irrfan Khan playing the biographical role of the Army man who won the steeplechase event seven times in a row at the Indian National Games. Gifted in athletics but tormented by circumstances, Tomar resorts to being a dacoit and murdering people for the sake of revenge. Opening to critical acclaim, Dhulia's movie was a sleeper hit which also had Nawauddin Siddiqui playing a key role as a police informer.
#8 Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (Hindi, 2013, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra)
Power-packed performances, a dramatic plot and the perfect lightning pace - all of this stitch together the biographical film on Milkha Singh. Opening to an uproarious response, the Farhan Akhtar-spearheaded film showcases the journey of Milkha Singh from being just another ordinary army recruit to being the 'Flying Sikh' at the Olympics. While the initial part of the movie is set in the backdrop of the Indian Partition, it soon takes off to follow the tracks of Singh as he goes to become a legend of Indian athletics.
#7 Mary Kom (Hindi, 2014, directed by Omung Kumar)
When Priyanka Chopra donned the gloves to play the role of 6-time World Champion and 2012 London Summer Olympics bronze medalist, Mary Kom, the response was overwhelming. The film follows the inspiring journey of Mangte Chungeijang as she struggles through the pressure of belonging to the marginalised Manipur state. Her struggles are wonderfully portrayed by Chopra and even earned her a nomination for Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Kom's story is powerful and emotionally poignant, making it an easy winner for the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment.
#6 1983 (Malayalam, 2014, directed by Abrid Shine)
The highly celebrated Abrid Shine film is a family drama that surrounds cricket. It focusses on Rameshan (Nivin Pauly) and his memories from 1983 when India won its first World Cup under Kapil Dev. The movie opened to a roaring success as it reverberates with the central theme of cricket and yet Abrid Shine lets a simple charm exude from his debut film. The film reproduces the glorious year of 1983 where India achieved cricketing glory. The plot follows Rameshan, a youth who idolizes Sachin, a reason genuine enough for the TV clips featuring Sachin on-screen. Notwithstanding that, the film stays true to the simple and charming narrative and doesn’t morph into an over the top endeavor that usually marks sports-centered movies.
#5 M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (Hindi, 2016, directed by Neeraj Pandey)
Arguably the 'coolest' Captain that the Indian cricket team could have been gifted with, the story of M. S. Dhoni is magnetically powerful. Through a series of obstacles that befell the highly successful Indian captain's way, both in his own life and in his cricketing career, make for a true tale of grit and passion that continues to inspire us with every watch. Sushant Singh Rajput does a commendable job in portraying the role of the Ranchi lad nursing the dilemma of being a Train Ticket Examiner for his father's sake or chasing the big dreams of letting his talent unfurl. Gripping and emotional, M. S. Dhoni instills in us the desire to dream and to chase them too.
#4 Dangal (Hindi, 2016, directed by Nitesh Tiwari)
The Aamir Khan blockbuster film sets a new bar for sports-centered movies in the country owing to the power-packed performance by Khan assisted by a supremely dedicated ensemble cast. The story of Dangal focusses on the life of Mahavir Singh Phogat, who goes on to break social stigmas to train his girls, more famously, the Phogat sisters for the Commonwealth Games. The film discusses important social issues whilst using the backdrop of sports and the politics and stigmas attached to it. Once again, Dangal is a movie that inspires with its sheer power of performance and will inevitably make you feel patriotic by the end of it.
#3 Budhia Singh- Born to Run (Hindi, 2016, directed by Soumendra Padhi)
Although an underrated film, the Soumendra Padhi directed movie showcased the world's youngest marathon runner, Budhia Singh (played by Mayur Patole) who ran 48 marathons when he was only five years old. The young Singh is put under the rigorous training of Biranchi Das (brilliantly essayed by Manoj Bajpayee) who pushes the five-year-old to the very extremes which saw Budhia running a 65 km marathon from Bhubaneshwar to Puri. A standout film in its own respect, Padhi's treatment of Budhia Singh is mature and nuanced, making it a stirring watch.
#2 Saala Khadoos (Hindi, 2016, directed by Sudha K Prasad)
Led by Madhavan, Saala Khadoos is an inspiring tale of a failed boxer who quits boxing following a fallout with the authorities over the underlying politics but goes on to coach a fisherwoman to fulfill his dream through her. The film was released in both Hindi and Tamil and was a critical success. Madhavan plays the role of a boxing coach who trains Ezhil Madhi (played by Rittika Singh) and the film swings dramatically between sports politics and coach-athlete relations which is wonderfully exhibited in the tense narrative of the film.
#1 Jersey (Telugu, 2019, directed by Goutham Tinnannuri)
Perhaps the most recent gem in Telegu cinema, Jersey showcases the story of Arjun ( played by Nani) who is a 36-year-old, ex-Ranji best batsman whose career fails to take off. Undeterred by his failure, Arjun remains optimistic and decides to make it to the Indian cricket team irrespective of his mid-30's age. The movie is a beautifully told tale that shows Arjun delivering his career’s best performance with ease. If he’s good as the cocky batsman who knows he’s talented, he’s doubly good as the man who’s beaten continuously by life but refuses to give up. Cricket is shot in a spectacular way in the movie as are the relationships displayed between father and son, making Jersey a must-watch.
# Kanaa (Tamil, 2018, directed by Arunraja Kamaraj)
Kanaa is more than just a sports film as it also shines the spotlight on the life of a farmer and the importance of farming, and this is where it really becomes overindulgent and gets into sermonising mode. A farmer's daughter dreams of becoming an international cricketer and winning the Cricket World Cup. She faces various challenges as she pursues her dream with the support of her father.
# Mukkabbaaz (Hindi, 2018, directed by Anurag Kashyap)
The film then sets out on the journey of the underdog who fights the corrupt system, deep-rooted casteism and societal pressure for his boxing dreams and love. The film chronicles the story of a boxer, who falls in love with a Brahmin girl. Things take a turn when he lands a punch to the head of the boxing federation and politician-gangster, Bhagwan Das.