“You need more passion in your eyes, more aggression,” Dane Vilas, who will be South Africa’s wicketkeeper batsman in the Test series against India, was told by Regardt van den Bergh. The camera was closing up on Vilas who had just taken a wicket, and van den Bergh wasn’t happy with the emotion. Vilas, who has earned the trust of selectors over Quinton de Kock for the wicketkeeper slot, was supposed to be Allan Donald in the movie about Hansie Cronje that Bergh was directing. ‘Need more aggression, you have just taken a wicket’. It took Vilas 20 takes before Bergh got what he wanted.
The 30-year old Vilas laughs now as he recalls the movie about the fallen star, produced by Cronje’s brother Frans and shot in 2007. Vilas was 22 and playing domestic cricket when he got a call from a casting director of the movie. They were looking for some cricketers to make the sport scenes look authentic and Vilas had no idea he would end up being cast as Donald when he landed up for the auditions. “You have to look at the camera and speak some lines. Luckily I had some experience of giving interviews with reporters and that helped,” Vilas says.
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He thought he would mouth a dialogue and appear in a scene or two. To his surprise, he was cast as South Africa’s greatest pacer and a team mate of Cronje. The movie shots reveals he couldn’t get the bowling action right but the director was more interested in the emotions. Vilas struggled a touch.
“There were quite a few re-takes to get that same passion which Donald had. All fast bowlers, you look at Dale Steyn, whenever they get wicket you see that passion. But to get same passion on screen is very very difficult.” Especially for a wicket-keeper.
“It took me 10-20 takes to get the same feeling of taking international wicket. Been a cricketer you will only get that feel when you are on field, the emotions come out during competitions. To replay that when you are not in that moment is very very difficult. Hopefully, I did ok, it wasn’t too bad,”
The shooting would go on from 6 am to the dusk, he had around eight to ten scenes but Vilas doesn’t remember the movie just for the acting experience, though. It also allowed him, he says, to “take a better understanding of Hansie” and how any player, even now, can fall prey to the dark side of the sport.
A shocking news
“I was very young when all this happened to him. What he did for South Africa was unbelievable. How he uniformed the team, he was absolute legend in everyone eyes. What came then was completely shock. Those players who had played with him, really respected him and really loved him. Nobody thought that the guy like him will be involved in such kind of that.
The movie didn’t quite open up the doors of movie industry nor was he stopped on the streets by film fans but he did catch the attention of Allan Donald. “It was emotional for Donald. It was difficult because he was such a part of Hansie’s life, they grew up together. Obviously, the whole episode and everything that led up to it was emotional for Allan. He later saw the movie and we had chat about it,” Vilas explains.
The movie produced by Cronje’s brother Frans didn’t fare too well commercially and also, had its detractors. As Janet Smith, an editor and author, wrote a stinging piece on release. “Of course, the film shows — as he tosses and turns, sweats and cries — that Cronje went through serious emotional pain.
Of course, it was tough to accept isolation. But the simple question which those who are now being labelled detractors have asked is: Should we have felt sorry for him? What exactly did he do to deserve our forgiveness except make his way through the passage of time? And that is the critical issue around the movie, which has all but bankrupted Frans. Are you an enemy if you cannot forgive?
Posthumously, Hansie would be beautiful. And at the end of the film, at the end of his life, he would be bathed in a divine light that would make those of us who are sceptical feel bad for our questioning.”
Smith quotes the director Bergh in the article, “It’s his search for redemption that I want to capture. He was, like all of us, a flawed human being. I’m sure that any of us would seriously consider the offer that tempted him.” That quote is immediately followed by these lines from Smith.
“Really? The late Robert Kirby’s words “F*ck you, Hansie Cronje, f*ck you” — published on the front page of the Mail & Guardian after the King Commission — resonate.”
As for Vilas, the experience of acting in the movie made him more sympathetic to Cronje. “It is a dark side of our sport. That (Hansie Cronje episode) shows that anybody can be involved in it, Each player has to be so careful. Nobody than thought that such kind of thing can happen. Unfortunately things got so accelerated so quickly for Hansie that it went out of control.”