Moved by Dangal and inspired by Sultan, perhaps you are now desperately keen to purchase the film rights to Abhinav Bindra’s book. No? Oh well. Anyway you are too late. I cannot precisely reveal the millions that were bid for it, but it has been sold. A film script has apparently been written and Christopher Nolan has been sounded out. Okay, fine, the latter may not be entirely true.
Purely in the interest of sports films, less-celebrated sports and slightly unheralded heroes, I hope they make a film on Bindra one day. How exactly they will do this, I am uncertain. While I have respect for Bollywood, if Bindra is going to dance around trees this may cause uncontrollable mirth. After all, he stands still for a living. This scholarly fellow prancing about would be as absurd as the peeing-blood-after-practice Milkha Singh cavorting in a bar in a movie. Oh wait, that happened.
Yet I’m all for creative flights of fancy for some of the liveliest stuff arrives from a scriptwriter’s brain. In Chariots Of Fire, Lord Lindsay trains on his lawns with full champagne glasses perched on his hurdles. Pure style. Except that the real character whom the fake Lord Lindsay is based on—so wrote Runner’s World—apparently used matchboxes. But who minds the deception. It’s not like Rocky was a history lesson. Not with dialogues like “You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” A little embroidery always helps and in the Bindra movie one suspects he will be given a love interest, a fine fiction which will please his mother, who wishes he was married.
I’m a sucker for sports movies though I make an exception for Ali. I won’t see it. I can’t. It’s as if I have a visceral objection to anyone trying to portray the unportrayable man. But boxing movies, grim and grimy, raw and rough, are unbeatable. Mostly they are sentimental redemption tales or hard-luck stories and yet my favo-urite, Raging Bull, is anything but, just a character study of a complicated and often ugly man, Jake LaMotta.
In the movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, LaMotta is savaged by the great Sugar Ray Robinson in their sixth fight but he won’t fall and tells Robinson, as if finding honour even in defeat, “You never got me down, Ray.” I looked up Robinson’s autobiography and the precise words according to him were: “You can’t do it, you black bastard. You can’t put me on the deck.”
The boxing is artfully filmed and while no film on Bindra needs to be a documentary, his sport warrants a realistic portrayal. I would not have enjoyed Chak De! India and Dangal as much if the hockey wasn’t authentic and the wrestling didn’t look convincing. Champions look counterfeit if their art seems fake.
Filming a shooter will be fascinating for the sport is far removed from the violent ballet of boxing and American football where bodies collide to music. Perfect movie stuff. And then there is the coaching conundrum.
Shooting coaches are philosophers who whisper wisdom and this won’t do on screen. Bindra either needs a spitting Tom Hanks from A League Of Their Own who shouts at a female player: “Are you crying ... There’s no crying in baseball!” or an Al Pacino who says in Any Given Sunday: “You find out life’s this game of inches, so is football.... On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.... Because we know when you add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f-----g difference between winning and losing!”
Fine films emerge from the strangest places and this should be the inspiration for anyone who makes Bindra The Movie. There have been films on a Jamaican bobsleigh team and a pool shark, but two resonate with me most.
In 1979, Peter Yates, who made the 1968 Steve McQueen classic, Bullitt, made a wry, moving film about young men and growing up which focuses on a teenage American cyclist who somehow thinks he’s Italian. Just the scenes between him and his father—funny and poignant—are worth the rental price.
Then, in 1993, Steven Zaillian, who wrote the screenplay for Schindler’s List, made Searching For Bobby Fischer. It is a chess film that The New York Times wrote “seems to worry about the very talents it also celebrates” and centres around an eight-year-old actor who “beautifully communicates the quiet enthusiasm of a true chess devotee”. And that’s what I wish for from a Bindra film. Not a perfect representation of his career but an appreciation of his devotions and shooting’s meditative madness.
The greatest sin of the sports movie is to render the athlete as shining hero, a flawless, humble, one-dimensional character who only wants to make his nation’s flag fly high. Athletes are human which is what makes them intriguing; they’re crazy, selfish, driven, egotistical, nervous, proud, insecure and the best movies get under the skin of that.
It’s where any film-maker should go with Bindra. To not focus on the champion but the human behind that. If I had to guess which movie dialogue might be his favourite, I would pick one from Miracle, the ice-hockey film, where the coach Herb Brooks tells his team: “You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”
I checked. Brooks actually said that.
Rohit Brijnath is an assistant sports editor at The Straits Times, Singapore, and a co-author of Abhinav Bindra’s book, A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey To Olympic Gold.