My review of Chak De India seems to have started off a discussion on the use of a standard formula in most sports movies. Giri, Rajendran and Ratnakar are right: you watch them for the adrenaline rush. It matters not if they’re formulaic. There’s an amazing passage in The God of Small Things where Arundhati Roy speaks of Kathakali dancers. She writes at one point:
… the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets… They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t.
Lofty praise for a film genre, maybe, but there you have it.
Having said that, there’s a certain pleasure to be had in watching a sports movie that has other fish to fry. Whether or not the underdog wins the big game isn’t the point here – even movies where the underdog loses but gains the respect of his peers counts as a win. I’m talking about movies with a big enough non-sporting agenda that, even during the closing moments of the big game, you’re thinking of the happenings off the field. Or movies in which there is no big game – they just have a sports background, that’s all.
Here’s a short list of such movies that I’m very fond of:
5. Jerry Maguire: It does have a big game and a big finish, but it has more to do with these characters than the game. When Rod Tidwell catches the ball and gets knocked down in the closing minutes of the game, you’re not thinking of whether or not the game was won. You’re thinking of him, and you’re thinking of whether Jerry will finally wake up and smell the coffee.
4. Chennai 600028: A year in the life of a cricket team in the slums of Chennai. Given how much this nation is obsessed with the sport, it’s amazing how it avoids being caught up in the same obsession. Features a crackerjack ending that absolutely bowled me over.
3. Raging Bull: This is a boxing movie to the extent that Hamlet is a ghost story. Scorsese at his very best, telling the tale of a boxer whose jealousy and rage turn out to be his undoing.
2. Million Dollar Baby: <Note to reader: Go back to previous entry and read the Hamlet analogy again> Even when it features a lot of boxing, it is not about it. And it completely changes tracks in the third act. It does have interesting things to say about the sport, though.
1. Bull Durham: My favourite movie involving sports in any shape or form. I very much admire the entries at Nos. 2 & 3, but this one I’m much more fond of. Kevin Costner has done a number of sports movies – For the Love of the Game, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup – and they’re usually less about the sport than about the life outside it. This one would rank as the best of that lot.
Rajendran mentions a few others such as Mohun Baganer Meye which, if memory serves me right, is about an East Bengal fan falling in love with the granddaughter of a Mohun Bagan fan. I’m of the opinion that it needs to be listed alongside movies like Alaigal Oivathillai and Bombay, which tackle the issue of love across religious boundaries.