Kaun Pravin Tambe, the latest sports movie from Bollywood, is a pleasant change from the formulaic dramas in the genre that seek to inject into the viewer patriotism and a sense of motivation to succeed in life.
Directed by Jayprad Desai, the film narrates the life of Pravin Tambe (Shreyas Talpade), a cricketer from Mumbai who made heads turn when he made his debut in professional cricket at the age of 41 in 2013. A familiar tale of an underdog who defied the norms of an ageist society. Tambe, who holds on to his ambition to be a professional cricketer at an age people start to slide into retirement life, is an anomaly in his milieu. But Kaun Pravin Tambe does not hurry into the mythification of its protagonist. The narrative builds itself on the ordinariness of his life.
The film rarely uses slow-motion shots to underline the protagonist’s talent and passion. When Tambe is training or delivering an awe-worthy performance on the ground, the film registers its admiration by panning to the faces of the onlookers or the commentators. Tambe is lauded not for the beauty of his performance but for the fact that he delivers. He takes wickets, leads his team to victory, and stays a team player. He is not a wonder kid but a product of perseverance and earnestness, nurtured by the country’s grassroots cricket culture.
And the film does not rely too much on time-compressed training montages or motivational speeches. Its most pivotal montage sequence has Tambe working day and night on various jobs, exhausting himself yet not giving up on his dream. It is, at once, an incredible personal story and a portrait of a nation that treats the dreams of those without financial or social capital callously.
The scenes in the former half of the film possess a warm slice-of-life quality. You see in detail the spaces and people. His small but space-efficient chawl apartment where he lives with his spouse, Vaishnavi (Anjali Patil) and two little kids. Money is hard to come by, but the city, which has an endless trove of opportunities, helps the family stay afloat. Tambe finds modest employment in various companies in sports quota. He is hardly bothered by the smallness of the jobs; he just wants to play cricket.
The most intriguing aspect of the film must be its narrator. MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) unfolded through the eyes of its protagonist, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who looked back at his life and the world with a lot of confidence. Tambe’s story proceeds from the perspective of Rajat Sanyal (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), a sports journalist and a former cricketer. Though Sanyal repeats that he is no admirer of Tambe, his narration is driven not by disdain but by a secret sense of envy.
The two men often come across as mirror images of each other. Theirs is a parallel journey fraught with tension. Both are in their forties, trying to catch a break. Sanyal is too timid to confront his failures, unlike Tambe, who, at one point, knocks at the door of his critic to tell him that he was right. In one instance, the narrator meets the subject in a dance bar where the latter is working as a bearer. Sanyal humiliates Tambe with a strange sense of vengeance, as though he blames the latter for the downfalls in his own life.
Sports has always been (unfairly) associated with masculinity. In their final meeting, Sanyal, who just lost a bet, is dressed up as a woman, and Tambe is fresh off his debut IPL match where he scored a hattrick. In a room full of men laughing at his make-over, Sanyal walks to Tambe and embraces him, ending a lifetime of resentment. In bright red saree and thick make-up, emasculated, he complements Tambe’s sweaty and triumphant image. An interesting twist to the narrator-subject relationship.
Kaun Pravin Tambe brings the career of Shreyas Talpade full circle. He rose to fame playing a deaf cricketer, Iqbal, in Nagesh Kukunoor’s film in 2005, and wandered in Hindi cinema for 17 years playing negligible, if not humiliating, roles. As Tambe, he finds a resurrection on screen. He delivers a sensitive performance, as a cricketer with dogged ambition and a man who never loses touch with reality.
Interestingly, Tambe, who repeats that his greatest dream is to play the state-level Ranji cricket, never once mentions winning. He comes from a place where young people are taught to self-restrict their dreams, where exceptional talents have to fight and submit to the ordinary problems of life. Kaun Pravin Tambe has an uninspiring narrative structure that makes stops at all the generic points of the underdog genre. Yet, it becomes a memorable biopic for its grounded portrayal of the protagonist’s social background.
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