Cricket and films are poles apart: one is real, the other make believe. Though different, they are alike in so many ways. Both are profoundly important to India, both contribute to nation building and shape our national identity.
Cricket and films constitute India’s ‘soft power’. Indian cricket is welcome everywhere, in demand even in areas difficult to locate on the globe. If ICC has more than hundred members, it is only on the back of support from India.
Cricket is also a tool of diplomacy, which is why Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar were part of the PM’s delegation when he visited Australia. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau found time to attend a cricket net in Delhi supervised by Sehwag. Navjot Sidhu was central to the Kartarpur corridor breakthrough.
Such is our power the financial health of other nations depends on an Indian team tour. BCCI’s friendly nod ensures a big television deal, and spectator attendance as match tickets are snapped up by hungry Indian fans. The recent World Cup is an example that cricket’s ecosystem runs on energy sourced from India.
Like cricket, Indian films have a massive commercial footprint. Its reach is global and superstar Shah Rukh Khan is recognised worldwide. The song-and-dance routine and heavy emotional content of Indian cinema appeals to people everywhere, China the latest market to be breached.
In India, the influence of films and cricket extends beyond their core areas. They unite India, the glue binding us is provided by these two. Every Indian cheers for Virat, and like him top film stars are national icons with pan India appeal. Expat Indians, though residents/citizens of foreign nations, connect with India through films and cricket.
Interestingly, cricket and films depend on numbers; it is the currency they share and ultimately that’s what matters. A film’s worth is decided by the box office, and the crores it earns; its fate decided on the opening Friday. Cricket too is a numbers game. It’s about wickets and runs registered in the scorebook.
Both are deeply uncertain. Neither works to script; there is no one formula that ensures success, and for both chasing success is like hitting in the dark. Cricket is a one-ball game where successful batsmen dread the law of averages, knowing a hundred could be followed by zero.
Cricketers and film stars live on the edge, players not sure what the next ball will bring and film stars in suspense about the fate of their next release. The past is but an irrelevant detail. While numbers are paramount, the sole measure to determine worth, they don’t tell the entire story. A toxic low quality film might conquer the box office, leaving purists and critics seething. Similarly, in the scorebook, all numbers are the same; there is no quality filter.
The scorebook doesn’t separate a classy cover drive from an edged boundary. All first-class runs are technically equal, whether it’s the hundred scored by Snell Patel in the Ranji final or by Milind Kumar in the Plate group (comprising North East states) who plundered 1331 runs from 8 matches with 6 centuries. Same with wickets where the scorebook treats all of them equal. It doesn’t matter if the bowler dismissed Tendulkar or Bumrah.
Runs are runs, die-hard professionals will say but is that really correct? There is a counter narrative that places performances in perspective. Surely Steve Smith’s runs this summer are more precious than the test double hundred scored by nightwatchman Jason Gillespie in Bangladesh. Surely, runs must be assessed keeping in mind the match situation and prevailing conditions.
Besides everything else, films and cricket bring joy and happiness. Films were always entertainment, cricket is in the same space now. Matches are a grand spectacle, tournaments are marketed and promoted like major film releases.
The Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on films, but they were right in observing that ‘cricket is of national interest.’