The upcoming biographical docu-drama Sachin: A Billion Dreams is undoubtedly among the most awaited films of the year. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, it is based on the God of Indian cricket — Sachin Tendulkar and features the man himself. We catch up with the two important people behind this project — producer Ravi Bhagchandka and internationally acclaimed writer-director James Erskine — who in a candid chat with Shweta Kulkarni reveal that making a film on the living legend was a challenge all right
How did Sachin: A Billion Dreams begin? What was the thought behind it and what motivated you to make a film on India’s biggest cricketing legend – Sachin Tendulkar?
James Erskine(JE): It started with one dream before it became a billion dreams. It started as Ravi’s dream and then it became mine. (Laughs)
Ravi Bhagchandka(RB): The reason I wanted to make this film was… Actually, if one looks at it from the Indian perspective, we don’t have many heroes. I am talking about real-life heroes, real-life inspiring figures. Sachin Tendulkar is among the few real-life heroes we have and Sachin: A Billion Dreams started with the thought that his inspirational story needs to be told to people. His journey, his experiences, his struggles, what Sachin Tendulkar means for India and what Sachin Tendulkar did for India. He has put India right up there in the world and is a global icon today. I felt all that needed to be told, not only to this generation but also for future generations. Sachin Tendulkar’s story needed to be immortalised. That was the motivation behind making this film.
Was it easy to approach the legend, who is also known to be a very private person?
RB: I used to play cricket, and one of Sachin Tendulkar’s friends, Paras Mhambrey, used to coach me. I approached Sachin through him when I got the idea. I spoke to his manager first, which was followed by a couple of meetings with Sachin. I went up to him and said, ‘I want to make this movie on your life’, and things eventually fell into place.
Not only have you made a film on him, but the docu-drama also features Sachin himself. How did you manage to convince him to be a part of the film?
RB: There was one thing I was very certain about, that I didn’t want any professional actors to do it. That’s why I was, like, we have to go this route and Sachin has to tell his own story. His batsman-ship is so pure that the film also needed to be pure, and this is how we had to do it. As we know, Sachin is an extremely private person. So the first thing he said was, ‘I am not acting, I am not an actor. I can’t act, I don’t know how to act, I am a sportsman and I’ll be a sportsman. Get an actor to do it.’
And I was, like, I don’t want to do it with an actor because I think it should be a real-life story and you should take us through your journey and narrate your story. I was, like, you don’t have to act, you simply have to be yourself. Whatever you do in real life, you do it here and we’ll just shoot it. Finally, he agreed.
JE: Not only him, even the rest of his family is extremely private. It took us about two years to convince his wife, Anjali, to be a part of the film.
James, at what point did you come on board and what was your reaction when you got to know that you were getting an opportunity to make a film on THE Sachin Tendulkar?
JE: Ravi contacted me in London and said, ‘I have seen some of your films, how do you feel about making a film with me? But I am not telling you who it is about.’ I was, like, if you have bothered to call me in London and have watched my films, then this had better be a film on Sachin Tendulkar. I said that without knowing that he had indeed called me to make a film on Sachin. When we had a formal meeting, Ravi was, like, ‘Yeah, you had guessed right!’
Previously, I had actually wanted to make a film about Sachin. I had thought about making a film on the 1983 World Cup Indian team and wanted to tie it with Sachin Tendulkar. The idea was to show how a young boy, who was to be the next World Cup winner, was inspired by the Indian team’s victory. I spent a couple of years researching that film too but it didn’t work out. And now I have been presented with this opportunity.
Since you are making a biopic, especially on a living legend, what are the challenges you encountered?
RB: I don’t think I faced too many challenges, but making this film was quite a task for James. He is the one who faced all the challenges.
JE: Yeah, there are always a few challenges as a writer- director when making a biopic. And it’s harder to do that when the person is alive. You know they have an opinion, they have a voice, especially the kind of film we are making, where it’s a journey and it becomes a challenge to bind everything together.
I have made films with pretty significant athletes before, some have been alive and some were deceased. One good thing was that I was familiar with what the language was going to be and the challenges those films presented. The challenge, here, was to present his story to an audience who adores him, who already have Sachin inside them. It’s not the film they’ll go to watch about Sachin; they’ll go for the experience, that emotion called Sachin. And to stay true to that emotion and capture it was a challenge.
Speaking of which, how did you manage to encapsulate his journey in a matter of few hours?
JE: It’s not a journey, even though it features Sachin as a small child and Sachin from now. We have actually taken episodes of his life and put them together, rather than saying when he was 25, when he was 30… What we have done here is focused on various episodes of his life.
RB: It’s his journey which is being told in multiple formats. So you would have a piece of footage shot by his son, then there are shots filmed by a professional DoP. We have used archived footage from his days in the ‘80s… It’s a blend of home videos, footage shot on a handy-cam, footage shot on the phone…
JE: And then there is animation and dramatisation. Finally, we edited all of it together. It was a crazy process to put everything together. We were constantly at wits’ end trying to figure out how to do that. I would design scenes with Sachin, which are present-day scenes but thematically related to the past and things would be brought together. So, it was quite crazy to put all of it together in the film but we finally did it.
Ravi: Aamir (Khan) has watched the film. He liked the journey and he said it’s the first time we have done something like this on the Indian screen. He was pretty happy with what we have put out.
JE: Sachin broke new ground, so we had to break new ground too, while making this film.
The film not only breaks the usual trend of biopics but it is the first time that a docu-drama will be releasing on such a grand scale in India. How have you kept the film true to its content while also making it entertaining?
JE: It’s very entertaining, it’s a unique film. It is not the usual documentary. As I mentioned earlier, there is dramatisation, animation. Also, I believe that the emotional graph will grip the audience. We have combined all elements, judging how and when can we use archival material, how to use footage from his innings, to build it into a strong narrative. We even have music. I mean, A R Rahman has done the music, so it is an experience, it’s just like watching a theatrical movie. I was just putting some finishing touches and realised that the pictures, the emotions are all very gripping. I feel people will cry.
About a billion people have expectations from a film titled Sachin: A Billion Dreams. After all, the film is based on the God of Indian cricket. Since the film is about to release, we have to ask… how daunting is that?
RB: It is nerve-wracking. There is so much pressure and we are keeping ourselves busy with work so that we don’t think about it.
JE: You know, I spotted an error in the film this morning and I am already preparing myself to receive flak for it. I can only imagine how many people will be making movies on YouTube about the errors in our movies. All the fans are going to grill us. (Laughs)