In a dramatic gesture of penance, Amita Sharma declares she would choose to drown if India did not qualify. Then she grabs a bottle of mineral water and says this is what she would drown in.
This comic interlude comes in a 25-minute documentary film on Indian women cricketers titled PooRs Cousins of Million $ Babies, a “celebratory” look at the Indian women’s cricket team, with an obvious reference to their “richer” male counterparts.
Sharma, the team’s vice-captain and a leading all-rounder, goes on to sing in mock grief: “Gham uthane ke liye jiye jaata hoon, piye jaata hoon(I live, and drink, to cope with my sorrows),” before downing a bottle of cold coffee.
United we stand: (above) Members of the Indian cricket team; and the poster for the documentary film.
Film-maker Sunil Yash Kalra took four years to put together the documentary with help from left-handed batswoman and former captain Anjum Chopra—she got the “cricketing perspective”, while Kalra got the “storytelling perspective”.
“They fight family, then society and infrastructure, to play for India. They carry the same heavy bags, play 8-10 international matches a year to earn Rs2,500 per match. At the end of the day, the team does not have a sponsor, yet they are celebrating because they play for fun, pride and honour,” Kalra says over the phone from New Delhi.
Kalra and Chopra maintain the film is not meant to evoke sympathy, but to celebrate women’s sport in India, though the comparison with the men was inevitable.
The film focuses primarily on four members of the team—Chopra, Sharma, captain Jhulan Goswami and Rumeli Dhar. It briefly maps the early years of Goswami and Chopra—people from two distinctly different backgrounds who came together in the Indian dressing room and as travelling roommates.
Kalra travelled to Goswami’s home in Chakda, 60km north of Kolkata, where the lanky girl first started playing cricket with boys at the age of 9. He mentions that Goswami, one of the world’s quickest bowlers, had to take on the local dada by hitting him for six boundaries in an over to prove she could play. Today, people of the locality say they are from “Jhulan’s village”.
Chopra, who grew up in Delhi, says the film is “not based on a single moment or achievement. It does not tell the story from one time period to another. It talks of how I took to the sport, how Jhulan did—which are poles apart—yet we walk the same path today.
“When a young girl watches this, she should realize the hardships people have gone through and feel proud of them,” adds Chopra, now also a commentator on television.
The film is an outcome of the coffee-table book that Kalra and Chopra are authoring, tentatively titled Journey of Women’s Cricket and scheduled for a year-end release. When Kalra started filming, he expected it to be just like “shooting wildlife, where the action would happen in 1-10 shoots”. What he got instead is around 400 hours of footage, only some of which has been used in the film.
The former adman-turned-author and film-maker says he had to earn the trust of the women before they let him into their “tribe”. The film, which includes footage taken by the players themselves on various trips, is a consequence of that trust. “There’s real blood in this, not tomato ketchup,” he emphasizes.
Kalra says he now has so many stories of the players that he could do a “biopic” on Goswami alone—from her disastrous debut under Chopra, to Goswami becoming captain with Chopra playing under her while remaining the best of friends, and four vice-captains being part of the same team without any conflict because “they have nothing at stake, no tonnes of money”.
Chopra laughs when she says the film’s title clearly communicates their situation: “We are their cousins and poor. There were lots of suggestions but the million-dollar bit remained a constant. Shakespeare said naam mein kya rakha hai (what’s in a name), but it does make a difference.”