Last year’s last release Dangal, which was based on wrestling, broke records and went on to become the highest-grossing Hindi film ever, and is still going strong. Yet, if you look at the movies that are lined up for release this year, there’s not a single film with a sports backdrop. When sports and movies are a winning combination for entertainment, why aren’t they paired more often in Indian film industry?
If Dangal and Sultan had wrestling as a backdrop, another big success story of last year, MS Dhoni: An Untold Story, was a biopic on cricketer MS Dhoni. The success of these three movies proves that the Indian audience is ready for sports-based movies but it is filmmakers who are not willing to make films based on sports. Let’s also not forget Priyanka Chopra’s successful film Mary Kom.
A couple of years ago, a biopic of Milkha Singh was made, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, featuring Farhan Akhar in the title role, was a huge success story. A few years before that, Shah Rukh Khan’s Chak De! India, which was a runaway hit.
Time and again, it has been proved that whenever a film based on sports has been made with sincerity, it has been a success. So, why are we shying away from making movies based on sports?
Let’s look at the track record of the three Khans – Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir – when it comes to sports movies. Aamir Khan has been a part of four sports-based movies – Awwal Number, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Lagaan and recently Dangal. Barring Awwal Number, the rest all have been hugely successful. Shah Rukh Khan has done two movies in this genre – Chak De! India and Chamatkar, the latter a flop. Salman Khan has done Sultan, another thumping success.
So, why don’t more filmmakers approach the three Khans with sports-based movies? Even more surprising, the Shehanshah of our industry, Amitabh Bachchan, a sports lover, hasn’t been part of a single sports-based movie so far.
This week, we asked industrywallahs why we shy away from attempting the sports genre even though we are a sports-loving nation.
There is no dearth of sports-based films in Bollywood. As a cricketing nation, people here connect with cricket-based films a lot more. But filmmakers are slowly looking at sports that are not mainstream and making films on them.
Also, sports-based films take a lot of time to make. Films that have been made on this theme in the last few years have taken more than two years, each, to be made. The actors have to be fit enough to endure the physical training movies like these require. Hopefully, filmmakers will make more films on sports which have a smaller fan following and are not in the mainstream.
I don’t really know why we don’t make more sports films. I can only say that sports personalities are role models and people love watching films on them. I think there are a few scripts in the pipeline on this subject and I guess we will be seeing them soon.
I think we have more sports films now than ever before, like Paan Singh Tomar, Chak De! India and Saala Khadoos. And the reason is people like these films. Since these films are working, more and more films on this subject will be made. But I don’t think we should have sports films releasing in quick succession. Writers and directors are looking at new angles in sports. We simply can’t make a lot of sports films; they also have to be good. I think everyone is looking for new ideas.
I believe it was Aamir Khan who introduced the idea of sports-based films to Bollywood, back in 2000, with his path-breaking Laagan. After that, I don’t think we have seen a dearth in sports films because we have had films like Chak De! India and Paan Singh Tomar. After these films, there has been no dearth of sports films. When someone found a good subject and a good story to tell, they just made a film on it.
We have always had sports films. What has changed in the last few years is that the audience has clearly indicated that they are happy to watch sports biopics because people have begun to wonder why, with a population of 120 crore, India isn’t capable of winning medals. So, I think it’s just that biopics have found a better connection.
Sports-based films are a relatively new trend and it will take a while for them to be accepted in India. Cricket has always been in the limelight but other sports are now sharing the spotlight. The good thing about this is that different types of genres and biopics are been made.
I think we are seeing a fair number of sports films. People love sports personalities and are inspired by films on them. The youth audience is fast growing and subjects like these are appealing to young people, especially cricketers and now wrestlers. Films like these will only grow in popularity with such a response from people.
I believe that content is king and the same applies to the sports genre. Just because a few sports films have struck gold doesn’t mean there should be a deluge of sports-based films without looking at content. That said, I am very happy that filmmakers are thinking of good content rather than simply trying to cash in on the sports genre.
The subject of a film is very important and it is pointless to make a sports film without an engaging subject. It’s never about the sport per se; if the story is strong and the sport is added, the film will be a hit. Since people are accepting films with sports and these films are based on true stories, it would be great to have more of these. For example, a film like Dangal was a hit because of the reality in it.
Sports has been the flavour of entertainment for the last 5 years. The basic element of drama is always the same on screen – zero becomes hero. There are rivals, there is competition, due to which there are fights and action sequenes with drama and a climax. The loser becomes a winner. There’s plenty of conflict with emotional reasons like personal and family issues, innocent rural characters go international purely on virtues and then there is a final victory.
What has changed today is that there are subtle emotions. There is an underpinning of melodrama and real acting. Research is well done at all levels, which further leads to technical finesse. The rest is the basic grammar of story telling, which is the same in all action films as it was in the ‘80s.
Sports movies have an emotional connect with people, especially true stories like Mary Kom, BMB and Dangal. The audience likes to see the story behind the success and the emotions attached to sportspersons representing India and winning on the world stage.
In the last few years, we have seen two to three sports films a year. It takes a lot of time to make films like these and that goes for the actors too. But we do have some interesting sports films that are coming up. There is a film to be made on India’s first hockey gold, titled Gold starring Akshay Kumar.
In the last few years, filmmakers have been looking for original stories and biopics, and sports is a genre that inspires you. Last year, there were a few sports films that didn’t work, which is why it is very important to look for a story with drama, emotion as well as one that inspires. Many films based on sports have been announced but writing the perfect script takes time. You never know, by the end of the year, we might see a few films on sports releasing.
Sports is not an easy genre to tackle. And what has been happening is that in this cricket-crazy country, we have started looking at other sports. Dangal is more a human story rather than a sports story. Movies like these are more about the journey, perseverance and a reflection of life and success than sports. I believe you can’t have too many films unless they are biopics of a particular star or some great sports personality. It is a genre that is beginning to pick up and I am sure there will be more.
It is also a difficult genre to shoot. To recreate sports in cinema is not easy. How would you know whether the audience, who is used to watching live sports, will believe in the film? In Dhoni’s movie, Sushant Singh Rajput made cricket come alive and doing that is tough. Chak De! India did a good job on hockey and Dangal did a phenomenal job on wrestling, and this takes perseverance and effort. Also, the actors have to sync perfectly with the real-life character. I am sure we will be seeing many more sports films.
I don’t think it’s really about sports films; I think filmmakers in India don’t have the courage to show the facts because we are much too worried about the commercial aspect of our films. Sports films are also very expensive to make, and it is not easy for a studio or producer to invest that much money in a film.
We invest only on movies that involve the big stars. Filmmakers, including myself, don’t believe in films per se, but in stars. Films like Mary Kom, Dangal and Sultan had the big stars featuring in them and that’s why they worked. Here, people go to see the stars and then fall in love with the film. We filmmakers are not ready to take risks. So we believe only in love stories, action or comedy. I salute people who make sports films without star.
There has been a quick succession of sports films and I believe we need to maintain a gap between films of this genre for these films to appeal to the audience. However, films like these take time to be made because of the kind of research required.
According to me, films made on popular sports like cricket, football and wrestling grab so much interest because people are interested in those sports. Content plays a major role in the success of a film. The content has to be really good and the film has to be marketed smartly. Films like Lagaan and Chak De! India did really well due to their content. It was after that that people started showing a keen interest in sports films. Moreover, not all directors and producers are capable of making sports films since they are time-consuming and have budget constraints.
Sport films do business either occasionally or due do their star cast, like Dangal and Sultan, which featured superstars. Also, a film’s success depends on its budget. Since sports films are expensive to make, we are not seeing many films in this genre.
Producers and directors are wary of making sports-based films because they require big budgets. Also, perhaps demonetisation has also impacted the inclination to tackle this genre.
Producers and directors are staying away from this genre because everyone is aware of how these stories end. They are predictable. Also, the subject of the film should be really strong for the movie to be a success. Biographical films are trending so only this type of sports film will do great business at the box office. Other sports films do not get much attention because of their weak content.
There are many reasons why sports-based films are not being made in large numbers but the primary reasons are lack of sports enthusiasts, except for cricket. Also, there is an issue with commercial viability. The audience needs to connect with the lives of the sports people on whose lives these films are made. If the sport is popular, the audience will find it easier to relate to.
Sultan was a drama, not a biopic like the other sports-based movies. You need to have a character to build a story. Second, sports has never really been promoted in India but with changing mindsets, Indians are now health conscious so the demand for sports movies has increased. But eventually you have to have a sporting legend to make a movie. Too much of anything is also not good.
I think we are a nation of sports fanatics and, lately, movies like Mary Kom, Sultan, M S Dhoni: The Untold Story and Dangal have done really good business. So I believe producers are willing to invest in sports movies. In future, I am sure there will be movies on PV Sindhu and Dipa Karmakar, women who have made our country proud after much struggle.
I think there are not enough sporting achievements in the history of India on which movies can be made. However, the success of Dangal and M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story will definitely encourage filmmakers to do serious research on sports subjects. The one subject I think can do very well is hockey wizard Major Dhyanchand.