‘Sachin’s specialness is his ordinariness’

Debarati Palit Singh
Sunday, 13 August 2017

James Erskine, who has directed Sachin: A Billion Dreams while promoting its television premiere, says that it’s an intimate peek into the life of a private hero

I am told that Sachin: A Billion Dreams is the highest grossing non-IMAX sports documentary of all time now,” says James Erskine, director of the docu-feature. The film captured the professional and personal aspects of Sachin Tendulkar’s life, who is not just a cricketer but considered god by many in this country. So, the documentary being declared a huge hit at the box-office and earning more than Rs 50 crore does not come as a surprise. The film is now set to make its television premiere on Sony MAX on August 15 at 8 pm.

The London-based award-winning writer, director and producer, who has directed films like One Night in Turin, Battle of the Sexes and From the Ashes, hopes that just like its theatrical release, it will pack as much punch to the audience watching it at home. He offers a peek into the documentary:

Why is Sachin: ABillion Dreams a must-watch for Indians?
Because Sachin’s story, tied as it is with the evolution of India and its economy over the past four decades, is their story as much as his. It will transport the audience to specific moments in their own lives. It’s also a really intimate peek into the behind-the-curtain life of a very private hero. People will get to see Sachin as they have never seen him before — with family, friends, at the birth of his children. It will make you laugh, cry and clap.

What was the biggest challenge of putting Sachin’s life and career on screen?
Part of the challenge was the length of his career — 24 years! How to pick which dramatic moments in his career? Which of 100 hundreds? What I tried to do was to look for moments of drama in his personal life and tie these to what was going on, on the field at the same time. The battle to win the World Cup provided a good structure to do this. Then of course the challenge was to persuade Sachin and his family to talk candidly, to share their own home movies.

What makes Sachin so special as a human?
I think his specialness is his ordinariness. He never sought, at least with me, ever to look down, only to look eye-to-eye. I think that is what grounds him. His determination to accept the joy of his gifts but never to allow him to feel that this makes him better than the next person.

How would you sum up the experience of working with him?
Incredibly positive. Over the long period we spent on the film, he always sought to collaborate and bring the best out of the film, as well as to respect that his life was inter-woven with many others and that their perspective on any moment was as important as his. Like on the field, he was focused and inspirational.

Were you confident about the response the film would receive?
We knew we were trying to pioneer the format — drama-documentary — in India. I was confident I would, given the right resources, make a great film that the audience could appreciate — but reaching that audience in terms of selling millions of cinema tickets is of course a mysterious alchemy. I am told now it’s the highest grossing non-IMAX sports documentary of all time, so I didn’t anticipate that. I hope the film will have a long life and be appreciated for years.

You have directed several sports films. How do you choose your subjects?
Instinct. The fact that there are so many sports subjects was accidental. I look for true stories that I think will resonate with a wide audience. I look for stories of geniuses. When these have a strong cultural aspect, they tend to resonate with me.

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