Shailesh Kapoor: Bollywood embraces the Sports Drama Genre. Will TV follow?

05 Sep,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


MC Mary Kom’s biopic releases today. After the success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag last year, the film, succinctly titled Mary Kom, is hot property in Bollywood trade. After all, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was the first 100cr film that did not feature a big star in the lead. It was also the most-appreciated Hindi film in terms of audience word-of-mouth since 3 Idiots.


In a different and yet not-so-different world, Sachin Tendulkar will be releasing his autobiography, in November. Co-authored by Boria Majumdar, the book, titled Playing It My Way, is sure to make at least some young Indians read beyond Chetan Bhagat.


Evidently, the impact of sport on other media has increased in the last year or two. Traditionally, “sports” meant restricted live telecasts and news coverage of the same. Everything else around it was strictly ancillary. The only other place where sportspeople featured was the gossip column, when they dated a film star (at times, starlet).


While Bollywood has found sports in its attempt to find new stories, Indian television seems to have ignored this recent development. We are not a sporting country by any means, but that does not mean that we don’t have sporting heroes. Yet, no stories on television have covered them, their lives or the drama associated with sport in general. The last attempt of any sorts was back in 2009, when Sony aired a daily called Palampur Express. The show was based on a fictional character, not a real story, and had severe story-telling concerns, none of which were about “sports” as such. It went off-air within weeks.


In my growing up years, I remember watching the Bodyline miniseries with awe. The idea of recreating real sporting action with such authenticity was fascinating. Hollywood has also captured sporting drama in dozens of films, including the behind-the-scenes action in films like Jerry Maguire and Moneyball.


I understand that the economics of sports channels may not allow them to invest in fiction series around sports. But isn’t sports drama a part of the wider umbrella called “general entertainment”? We dish out talent shows by the day, but there haven’t been any that search for the next potential Indian cricket team member or the next potential Saina Nehwal or Sushil Kumar.


Sports drama can be excellent viewing for weekend audiences. It ticks most weekend boxes – it is male-skewed, it is kids-inclusive, it has a rush of adrenaline, and certainly a big scoop of inspiration.


A big network like Star, with equal interest in both sports and general entertainment, is best aligned today to bridge this need gap. A crackling sports drama or sports reality show can open up a new area of television programming in India. Otherwise, like it took a Richard Attenborough to tell Gandhi’s story, it would take another Brit or American to tell Dhyanchand’s story on TV or celluloid.


Bollywood has taken the first step. It’s time for television to follow and embrace the world of sport outside of live action. Anyone listening?


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