Sachin: A Billion Dreams is one of the most awaited films this year. It is the first time that a docu-drama is being made on such a large scale. This film is going to break the trend of biopic films and promises to show the real Sachin Tendulkar to all his fans and even people who don’t know about the master blaster. We had a tête-à-tête with film director James Erskine, and here’s what he says about working on the mammoth problem. The film also brings the perspective of Sachin’s wife Anjali into play because when Sachin took every failure in the right spirit and looked for solutions for problems, she was the one living with the problem herself.
You’ve directed a number of sports films. What usually makes for highlight for a sports film?
The thing that I would always look for in a film is where sport intersects with culture, so they’re not simply films about athletes just being athletes, they’re about films where the athlete transcends, transforms, or changes the way that we’re thinking about things. I think sports in our culture are under-appreciated. However, sports are one of the few things that unify people. For example, if you have a football match where England is playing, it’s the World Cup semi-finals, there’s 26 million people watching on the TV, thinking the same thing, that’s a really powerful thing to capture. You have Sachin Tendulkar and there’s the 2011 World Cup, that’s the most inspiring thing. How often is everyone thinking and feeling the same way? It’s almost never! The only point we have to connect in the modern days is through sport. We don’t even connect through film in that way any more, or television. Big television in the 80s, or early 90s, it was possible to reach a massive swathe of people at the same time, and chart their emotions. People’s life is constructed through the memories of what they’ve seen and what they’ve read. That’s what I look for, stories that have that moment where everyone just has that “Holy sh*t” moment!
You’ve also co-written the film, tell us more about the process.
We started off just speaking to a lot of people, just speaking to the Tendulkars, sometimes by himself and at other times with the entire family. I tried to speak with eight people that he interacted with at every stage of his life, from his friends at the age of three, right through to Virat (Kohli) with whom he played in the recent past, just to try to understand as much about him as I possibly could. I also dug out as many archives as we could and try and find a structure for the story… that was the essence of it. It’s a movie, a movie is like a 10,000 word article, it’s not a book, it’s not an encyclopedia, it’s drawing out the essence of a story. If you didn’t know anything about him, even if you came from Mars, you would be amazed by the story. That was the first thing, to really define what it was that everything else hangs on, and while obviously we can’t cover everything, we can’t cover a 100 hundreds, that would make for a very long movie. One of the great things about it is that what I thought was a great story, was that Sachin’s journey was sort of defined by the World Cup, it was his awakening moment. I asked him this when I first met him, and it was his entirely spontaneous reaction, that this was what he saw, and it was great from a structural point of view when you’re making a film where you cover a whole life.
What the movie charts is his personal journey, and it intersects with cricket, rather than the opposite way. The cricket moments we chose in the film were when they were the part of his life journey. It wasn’t a film about this impossible figure — Sachin is an impossible figure — but the film shows that he’s not in a lot of ways. So our hope is that people’s admiration for him will increase as they understand him more deeply.
What was the most challenging part of directing Sachin: A Billion Dreams?
Each moment of it was challenging! We’re trying to make a unique film, and bring in all these different elements, all the dramatizations and animations, and footage from shootings of his home movies. But I was never really worried about each of the elements, but combining everything together. I think that was the real challenge because the film has to be more than the sum of its parts.
How was it working with Sachin and Anjali?
I met Anjali when I first met Sachin and she was very hospitable, and told me stories. But she was very difficult to persuade to go on camera and it took us two years. They’re private people and they don’t want to expose themselves or be evaluated in certain ways. But we talked a lot and she gives an incredible perspective, because she’s his wife and she’s been on that journey more closely than anyone else. She was helpful and gave ideas and insights. She offers a great balance to Sachin because Sachin thinks in a certain way, which is very different from Anjali. So Sachin might tell you a story about an event from his perspective and she might tell you a story from her perspective where she looked at Sachin and observed his various emotions. It’s actually the way we look at a problem, and Anjali tells you what it’s like living with a problem.
What is the most defining moment in Sachin’s film?
The first scene, I think. We tried to do a very unexpected first scene, so you would start in a place that you wouldn’t expect. What we tried to do is to keep people not exactly sure what’s coming next, and that’s good. And at a number of places how we’ve used music is quite interesting. We’ve built three specific songs into the film and include voices of people. The are in the film’s defining moments because they sort of encapsulate the impossibility of the feats that are being achieved. The first and the last shot, and they’re sort of tied together.
How have you managed to keep Sachin, the cricket god, distinct from Sachin, the person, in the film?
He (Sachin) is an iconic figure which many people have never really known, but they’ve all got their own perspective, so we really wanted to give them that element of insight. We get all these perspectives, not just the stories that are being told but actually the perspectives through which we see them. All these elements make a mosaic. Would it change cinema? I don’t know. But we wanted to make a movie showing people close to the hero, just taking a break.