The record success of Aamir Khan’s Dangal, and Salman Khan’s Sultan before it, is a vindication of Bollywood’s faith in sports-based films. Many of these films scored a perfect 10 on the box office, and given India’s new-found love for action on the sports field, this is one trend that promises to make heroes out of real-life winners in the coming years.
We take a look at sports films that created a storm at the domestic box office and highlighted the stories of real life sports personalities onscreen that courted both controversies and appreciation alike.
Aamir Khan’s biopic on the heroics of wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat, mentored by their father Mahavir Singh Phogat, was in news ever since shooting for the film started. Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, Dangal has become only the second Bollywood film to cross the Rs 300 crore mark.
MS Dhoni: The Untold Story
India’s most successful cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was always a good subject for a biopic, but nobody knew it will come so early: even before his retirement from the world cricket.
The second challenge was to portray Dhoni on the big screen with authenticity. Director Neeraj Pandey put his faith in a newcomer like Sushant Singh Rajput who passed the test with flying colours. The film earned more than Rs 100 crore at the box office.
Salman Khan, one of the most bankable actors in Bollywood, decided to play a character that suited his age more than most of his other roles. Despite flawed diction, Khan played a Haryanvi wrestler who returns to the ring to regain the lost glory.
Though the film was inspired by a couple of Hollywood sports films, Sultan managed to hit the right strings. It was the highest grossing film of 2016 before the release of Aamir’s Dangal.
R Madhavan plays the role of a boxing coach who transforms an ordinary fisherwoman to an aggressive boxer. It’s the remake of Tamil film, Irudhi Suttru. It didn’t do any wonders on the ticket windows, but people noticed the newbie Ritika Singh.
“I was crazy about martial arts. At at the age of three, I started training in karate. I never thought of acting …Bollywood. I have not seen many films. When this offer came (I accepted it as) I liked the story,” Ritika said at an event while promoting the film.
Chak De India
The Shah Rukh Khan starrer is one of the most watched and loved sports movies in India. The plot begins with the story of a national hockey player who gets entangled in a fixing row. He loses his place in the team after a loss to Pakistan. He is then considered an outcast in his hometown and eventually has to move from his ancestral house.
The emotional drama tugged at the heart strings of the nation and the movie went on to be a major hit. It also shined a much awaited spotlight on hockey as an integral Indian sport.
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag
As the name suggests, this was a biopic based on India’s most decorated athlete Milkha Singh. The movie not only inspired a lot of sportspersons but also had an emotional connect with fans across India. It portrays the early life of Milkha in pre-independence Pakistan. It shows his struggle after he is forced to leave everything and come to Delhi as a refugee having lost his parents too in the bloodshed of the partition. The movie traces Milkha’s formative years in old Delhi, and moves on with him when he joins the army before hitting national headlines as India’s most successful athlete.
This Aamir Khan led film’s plot dates back to the British Raj in India. The storyline shows how a small village near Bhuj in Gujarat finds it extremely difficult to produce crops in a near-drought situation. However, the British government is only concerned about the tax they collect from the village in kind, which is called Lagaan. With no work possible in the parched fields, the young villagers spend their days watching the British play cricket.
The movie is based on how a bunch of farmers learn to play cricket in just about two months, carve willows themselves, sew leg-guards and eventually beat the British in a three-day game to get their tax burden cancelled.
It’s a biopic based on the life of former India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin. Emraan Hashmi plays the role of the cricketer. The movie shows the ups in the life of Azhar beginning with his amazing Test career, how he earns the respect of the Indian public and takes command of the side.
Later, Azhar gets convicted in a match fixing scandal in 2000 and his cricket career comes to a dot. The movie goes on to portray him in good light saying how he once again managed to win hearts by getting elected in the parliament.
She is India’s only woman boxer to have won an Olympic bronze medal. The movie embodies the theme of women empowerment by showing how Mary Kom, played by Priyanka Chopra, paved her way to the Olympic stage in a society where women are not given freedom to chase their dreams.
Later her coach would end up becoming her husband. Despite the difficulty in raising her kids, Mary kom continues to practice boxing and eventually wins the bronze.
Shreyas Talpade’s Iqbal is a sweet little story of a deaf and dumb village boy who harbours dreams of playing cricket for India. His father curbs his desire to play cricket and forces him to work in the fields to help the family earn a living. The boy, though, is dedicated and finds time to practice bowling all by himself. Later, he comes to know that Naseeruddin Shah, who plays a cricket coach, could be of help to him. Though Shah is an alcoholic, he goes on to coach Iqbal. Eventually the boy represents India.
Paan Singh Tomar
Tomar (Irrfan Khan) was an Indian long distance runner who was a national champion. A humble background and insincere relatives trouble Tomar’s personal life. His ancestral land in the village is seized by his relatives and the local police deny any help. Then, Tomar ends up killing one of his relatives and injures a policeman. There is no looking back from there and Tomar goes on to become a notorious dacoit.
Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal
John Abraham is a professional footballer based in London. An Indian origin forward, his local English colleagues are jealous of his abilities and often start altercations with racial overtones. On the other hand, Southhall’s local football club has players who are hoteliers, bus conductors and businessmen. They play together in the league and are vying to get Southhall’s local football ground on lease.
Rishi Kapoor, head of the Kahlon family, is a mayor who remembers his early days of struggle in England after immigration from India.
The family had migrated from Patiala and suffered racial abuse. His son Akshay Kumar, excelled at junior cricket till he is grounded on his father’s instructions who does not want his child to face the kind of racial abuse that led to the death of his own brother.
It’s a father-son conflict about the value of sports in one’s life.