Sports movies in India usually portray larger-than-life sporting icons, and are usually played by, well, ‘larger-than-life’ actors. While there are exceptions like Mukkabaaz (2017), over-dramatisation mars this genre in Bollywood, especially when it comes to portraying cricket. Because, of course, cricket itself is larger-than-life in India.
Kaun Pravin Tambe? is different exactly here. Jayprasad Desai’s film speaks of the everyman cricketer, the ‘nobody’ in cricket. And, fittingly, the director has chosen as his lead an ‘everyman’ actor, Shreyas Talpade. Interestingly, the film opens with a clip of Rahul Dravid speaking on leg-spinner Tambe. Interesting because isn’t Dravid again one of those prosaic workhorses of cricket, bereft of the stardom of a Tendulkar or Ganguly?
Desai’s attention to details as he envisioned his film and the warmth of his heart is palpable in every scene of the film as Tambe is shown as a jolly family man, a man close to his friends, and a man who would give anything to play cricket.
Overall, without songs, a mighty starcast and overboard drama, the movie has a ‘feel-good’ aura around it as the script takes more of a comic line even while speaking of Tambe’s struggles.
What’s more refreshing is the director’s focus on tournaments like Times Shield, or even tennis ball cricket, and making the film so relatable. It strikes very close to home as Desai is successful in bringing out the story of the many thousands (or lakhs) of cricketers in our country who never make it to the 11 players in blue.
Tambe’s struggle is gigantic but his dream is what every young kid who steps into the cricketing field has in their heart. India is too big a dream, he wants to play for Mumbai at least once.
His race against time and a massively competitive system resonate, perhaps through the eyes of every young cricketer who would watch the film. After all, Tambe is that Sisyphus who would return every year to the state trials!
Desai has brilliantly portrayed an old-world coach’s views of a cricketer and the smaller nuances of cricketing technique. And no one could play Tambe’s coach better than Ashish Vidyarthi.
The veteran actor has really bloomed in the character and his acting lights up the screen.
Another aspect that the director has kept his eyes on is the role a “journalist cum cricketing expert” might play in a cricketer’s life. Speak to any struggling cricketer who spends his nights at a maidan tent (or even to a certain Manoj Tiwary) and ask him about such sports journalists who wouldn’t even go to a cricket field, you would know how close the film is to reality. As journalist Rajat Sanyal, Parambrata Chatterjee’s acing is apt, even as the character looks a bit like a caricature.
While we speak of acting, every actor in this film has done their work well. Special mentions have to be made of Arun Nalawade as Pravin Tambe’s father, the perfect Chhaya Kadam as Tambe’s mother and the powerful Anjali Patil as his wife Vaishali.
This takes us to the lead of the movie. Shreyas Talpade. Many have called this film a second Iqbal. But Talpade has probably surpassed his earlier stellar performance.
His brilliance shows at every smile and tear, celebration and pain of Tambe, and he has fleshed out a very real character out in the open.
However, the thing that particularly strikes especially later on in the game is Talpade’s cricket. His action and delivery of a ball clearly show how hard he has worked for the game. There’s Farhan Akhtar in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and to some extent Diljit Dosanjh in Soorma, but I haven’t seen an actor in India take his on-screen cricket so close to believability. The way Talpade flights the ball as he practises with the real Pravin Tambe in the post-credits gave me goosebumps.
However, a film with so much eye on details, shouldn’t probably have shown Shubman Gill in the match against KKR, which again was definitely not Tambe’s debut in IPL.
The other thing that struck me was Abey Kuruvilla. I feel the character sketch is a little inconsistent. Being a former India player, wouldn’t Kuruvilla probably be a little more empathetic and not try to mow down Tambe’s dreams? He becomes immensely happy after Tambe’s selection in Rajasthan Royals, true, but his earlier demeanour is almost like an allegation against the former Indian pacer.
Pravin Tambe made his IPL debut at 41, on a stage and in a game that is still reserved for the young. What’s more, he made his Ranji debut for Mumbai as well. Again, credit to the director who could show how red ball cricket is most often closer to a cricketer’s heart than T20 leagues, even if it’s at an international level.
The film holds a toast to anyone who tries to hold a dream against all the ageism of this world, and nurture it even when everyone else would give up on it. As Talpade’s Tambe sums it up, “Successful hua to great, nahin to paagal.”