Sachin: A Billion Dreams will highlight the journey of Tendulkar the man, not just the cricket god

Jigar Mehta

Apr,14 2017 15:55 14 IST

"Don't even blink" flashed on the big screen as Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat for one last time in international cricket.

All of Wankhede was held in the grip of emotions; the atmosphere was alive, then a sense of numbness set in. The tears wouldn't stop. Mumbai came to a standstill.

It's been four years since Tendulkar's fascinating journey on the field — spanning 24 years — ended. And fans are set to relive that 'don't even blink moment' when the biopic based on the legend — Sachin: A Billion Dreams — hits theaters on 26 May 2017.

A glimpse of what we can expect from the biopic was witnessed in Auditorium 2 of Juhu PVR cinemas, which was buzzing with whistles and the reverential chants of "Sachin...Sachin..." during the trailer launch of Sachin: A Billion Dreams. It was as though everyone was going through the emotions of every scene.

The emotional connect Sachin shares with his fans (has been a major aspect of his god-like status in the sport) and the director of A Billion Dreams, James Erskine, has promised another emotional roller-coaster ride.

"I guarantee you that the theatres will be full of people crying at the end of the movie!" an animated Erskine told Firstpost, from the sidelines of the trailer launch. "I’ve seen my grandmother cry after watching this movie, and I cry every time I watch the end — and not just because I remember the making of it!" Erskine shared, with a laugh.

No matter how many matches he had played, every time Sachin walked out to bat, his nerves would jangle at the start of his new innings. It was no different this time either — even six years after his retirement. Anxiety was laced with nervousness and excitement, as Sachin spoke about his 'special' project.

At the trailer launch of Sachin: A Billion Dreams. Image courtesy: Twitter

At the trailer launch of Sachin: A Billion Dreams. Image courtesy: Twitter

“I feel as nervous as during my first press conference in 1990, after I scored my first international hundred.” Tendulkar said, smiling. “Till then, I had no idea of how press conferences were conducted, what happened in there and I kept asking a lot of guys in the dressing room on what was it all about."

“They scared me even more, stating that there would be a number of questions asked! That’s what I’m feeling at the moment... But this is special,” he added.

Erskine has worked on a number of international films on sports such as Shooting for Socrates, The Accidental Death of a Cyclist, From the Ashes, and One Night in Turin. Ravi Bhagchandka, the producer of Sachin: A Billion Dreams, had put in enormous research before finally zeroing in on Erskine.

Erskine is an avid follower of cricket and growing up in Manchester, he'd seen a lot of Sachin in his younger days. He had previously wanted to make a film about Sachin and the 1983 World Cup but couldn't figure out the ways and means. And when Ravi contacted him for the film, Erskine's answer was a no-brainer. At the same time, Erskine was also sure that he wanted to do something completely different — not just making a film projecting Sachin's career. He wanted to bring out an altogether new dimension.

"When the phone rang, I was like of course (yes)," Erskine told Firstpost. "Let's see if it’s real you know... because the whole thing about Sachin is, he doesn’t really talk to the press; not that he avoids the press, but he is a private guy. What he wanted to tell, is his story... I didn’t just want to make a story which was already in the public domain. I didn’t want to make a story of India watching Sachin Tendulkar. I wanted to make a movie about what it was like to be Sachin Tendulkar being watched by India as well," he adds.

Sachin said he and the makers of A Billion Dreams had tried to strike a balance in the story they brought to the screen.

"Yes, I am a private person. But over a period of time, I have figured out there are certain things that people want to see, that people want to know," Sachin admitted during the trailer launch. "I have made all possible efforts to try and live up to their expectations — and what I also feel comfortable with. So we've got to find that balance, and that is what we've tried to create here."

For Erskine, working on Sachin: A Billion Dreams taught him new things about Tendulkar, the man.

"You know what’s most remarkable is that it’s the story of a man who lived with the expectations of a billion people," Erskine told us. "No one has this story: what does it mean, how would you cope, who are you, how do you create your own identity, what happens when it doesn’t go right, what happens when you yourself want to be the best and it’s taken away. Sachin and I were able to talk very openly about the film (right from the start). There are lots of ways of exploring, building up a relationship of trust — and (as a result) there are many, many things in the film that people won’t expect and can’t even imagine. It's a story of India, told through one man. A person who has conducted himself incredibly well in the public domain. To work with him and to find ways of getting to the emotions of his story has been a joy," he said.

And yes, the movie will be different from Sachin's autobiography.

"There’s a massive difference," Erskine said. "One thing that I really wanted this film to be about, was not the factual accounting of the life of Sachin Tendulkar. Absolutely not. It’s an emotional journey about a boy who has a dream. He follows his dream and overcomes many struggles and has many ups and downs in his life... so it’s a story of a man and that’s the difference. The book is an account of his career. The film pushes you into his shoes and hopefully makes you feel the way that he felt and helps you remember things about your own life as well."

Poster of Sachin: A Billion Dreams

Poster of Sachin: A Billion Dreams

Sachin has been on the screen as part of numerous TV advertisements, but A Billion Dreams marks his film debut. There have been nervous moments, but unlike on-field, being in front of the camera does present the opportunity for re-takes. And since the story being told was his own, Sachin was able to slip into this screen adaptation smoothly.

"Well, I never thought that something like this is going to happen in my life. All I wanted to do as a child was to pick up a cricket bat, play cricket for India and chase my dream... My dream started when I was only 10. I wanted to win that World Cup for India, hold that trophy," Sachin said. "And along the way, there were a lot of things that happened in my life but they were all real, there were no retakes and everything happened in front of the whole world. So we could not actually say, 'Something went wrong, so okay, lets plan and do it again.' That was in the next match but that match was done. If you are out, it was over... so everything happened there and then, and I had to be prepared for all the adversities, I had to be prepared to face all those challenges. There were some incredible moments and that is something we've been able to capture. I am really, really excited because it's a new experience for me, to work with James who has a lot of experience and has shown a very different side of me which not many people have seen. People have seen me play cricket and a few other interactions but there is a lot more in my movie," he added.

So how did Erskine, the director, find Sachin, the actor? "Fortunately, I’m a really good director!" Erskine said, laughing aloud, before continuing, "Sachin is great. He has changed over the years. I think he is committed to the project that he wants to do. He wants to do it right, he wants to do it well and he could understand the central character since it was him. So, I found him very easy to work with. He put a lot of time in this film — which many people wouldn’t necessarily — and he makes you feel you’ve really been let into his world."

Despite all of Tendulkar's help, for Erskine, A Billion Dreams was a challenging film to make — taking into account the enormity of the subject and central character.

"It’s been a challenging film to make. I think I found the concept that I was comfortable with very quickly in discussion with Sachin. Because the film needs a story right? It’s not a book, it’s not a biography. It needs a storyline, it needs a narrative, it needs something to hook you as an audience and go: what is the character’s journey? Also the hardest thing is to create an arc where the end of the movie invokes the biggest emotion, right? Actually at the end of the movie we have...well I shouldn’t give it away!" Erskine said.

"I understand what Sachin means in England and I can imagine what's it like (in India). I don't think there's a greater icon in the sporting world that's ever existed, other than Sachin Tendulkar. This man captures the essence of his country's story over the last 30 or 40 years. It's a huge journey. The scale of the story is ultimately the challenge. He's had such a long career. Normally you will be making a film about one event, one World Cup, one game. And here we are with nearly 1,000 games to think about," Erskine pointed out.

There were times when Sachin got emotional during the shoots while recollecting the past. As the conversation progressed, a nervous Sachin transformed into a nostalgic one and strode down memory lane with funny stories.

“I was around 3-4 when at home, my family was constantly talking about a movie called Maa and then finally a day arrived when we decided to go watch it in a theatre. We were travelling in a bus and the conductor naturally approached us and asked me ‘Which ticket do you want?’ I murmured, ‘Maa movie ki ticket chahiye (I want a ticket for the movie Maa)’ instead of telling him Bandra or Santacruz! [the crowd burst into laughter]. Those kind of things stay with you and that's also something which we have tried to include in our movie. There are certain moments that will stay with you...I am hoping that they will stay with you," Sachin told the audience at the trailer launch.

It's hard not to get nostalgic as you take this trip back down the years. The trailer looks promising: There's Tony Grieg's electric voice saying, "Sachin Tendulkar...What a wonderful player!"There's MS Dhoni saying, "I would tell people, jab Sachin batting karne aayega, tab mujhe bula lena." And there are the chants of "Sachin...Sachin" as he walks back in tears amid the Indian team's guard of honour.

There are sure to be a lot of goose-bump inducing moments as you watch Sachin: A Billion Dreams. And millions of moist eyes.