The female lead of this film could be an unconventional 210 cms tall — 6.8 ft. The male lead could well be a middle-aged, portly, track-suited basketball coach who is at least a foot shorter than the girl he succesfully coaches to glory at the nationals, making her India’s best hoopster of the season.
The heartwarming real-life story of the Chhattisgarh women’s team, which recently won their second straight national title at Bhilwara, is set to be scripted into a film. The story of Coach Rajesh Patel’s outdoor academy for girls — most of them from under-privileged backgrounds — at the Bhilai Steel Plant caught the eye of actor-producer Lara Dutta Bhupathi, who, with her production house partner Raj Singh Chaudhary (who acted in Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal), is set to nurture the project to its cinematic conclusion.
Lootera director Vikramaditya Motwane, whose directorial debut Udaan was set in another steel city (Jamshedpur), is rumoured to be helming the basketball film.
“It will mean a lot to Chhattisgarh and to Indian basketball if a brilliant director who understands small towns beautifully were to make this movie,” said Patel, declining to divulge any other detail.
He did confirm that talks were underway even before the early January triumph. “Yes, Lara Dutta had read about the academy and wanted to make a movie on the state women’s team. We’ve had detailed discussions and two of their team members flew down to Bhilai last September and spoke to the girls who are very excited. They promised that it would not be a masala film,” said Patel.
The coach, who was a tactically brilliant hoopster in his younger years but failed to make the national team owing to his modest height — he’s barely 5’5”, is known to go scouting the countryside for tall athletes who can be trained for basketball. But what’s compelling in this tale is how he has instilled confidence in average 5 feet-somethings to believe that they can beat the fancied Railways unit, even as he helped many of his proteges to land jobs with the Railways due to their ball-playing talent.
“The kind of families they come from, even their next meal is not assured, forget about completing their education. I think girls should do more than just be married off at 18 years. My girls play aggressive ball and are posted as ticket collectors at big stations. They go to work from 7 am to 5 pm, and come back and train. Nothing makes me more proud than seeing them in their blazers going about their work professionally. On the court, they are expected to win of course,” said Patel.
The girls received a congratulatory message from Lara Dutta after they beat Delhi in the final. Patel, who visited Globosport’s Khar office last year, met Mahesh Bhupathi in Raipur recently to take the project forward. While DD Sports did not air Chhattisgarh’s title triumphs in 2014 and 2015, its video recordings have been sought before the script is fleshed out.
Apart from the buzzer-beating match drama of the finals, the girls have their own backstories. There is Punam Chaturvedi, the near 7-footer who is being treated for brain tumour and top-scored in the finals with 48 points, and Seema and Akanksha Singh, whose father’s transferable job with the CISF meant that they were left in Bhilai, where they picked up basketball.
“As a team, we usually watch light-hearted films like PK or comedies. But we’re excited that some actor could be playing us in a movie. Everyone will know about Indian basketball and that we play very well,” said Akanksha.
“There are many tall actresses around, so that’s great,” said Punam.