The love affair between cricket and cinema in India
“Self-promotion through this kind of cricket and Bollywood mixing has been happening for many years,” says Rauf Ahmed, the former editor of several film magazines in India, including Filmfare and Screen. “It is like glamour reinforcing glamour.”
The first cricketer on record to seek his fortune in Bollywood was Salim Durani. At a glance, the batsman well known for slamming sixes into the crowds seemed to have what it takes: dashing looks that got him a role in B R Ishara’s 1973 movie Charitra, opposite the actress Parveen Babi.
“Durani looked smart, had the body language, but lacked the ability to act,” says Ahmed. The film, which was both Durani’s and Babi’s launch pad, flopped. Babi managed to bounce back, though, and went on to become one of the most successful actresses of her time, starring in a string of blockbusters opposite the top star of the day, Amitabh Bachchan.
Next up: the batsman Sandeep Patil, whose cricketing career was in jeopardy after he underperformed against England in 1984. Dropped from the national team for a few test matches, he was signed on for Kabhi Ajnabi The in 1985. The Bengali actress Debashree Roy, whom he was romantically linked with, was also in the film.
Ahmed believes the relationships cricketers establish with actors – romantic or otherwise – allow them to get their foot in the door.
“It continues to happen,” he explains. “Take, for example, the current heartthrob cricketer Virat Kohli and his link-up [with the actress Anushka Sharma] or the friendship between John Abraham and the Indian skipper M S Dhoni.”
Patil’s cricket colleague Syed Kirmani, who was the wicketkeeper for the Indian team during their 1983 World Cup win, was cast as the villain in the same film. Kirmani, who is from Chennai, decided to give acting one more try in 2012, accepting a role within his comfort zone – that of a cricket coach – in the Malayalam movie Mazhavillinattam Vare (Till the End of the Rainbow).
Perhaps Sunil “Sunny” Gavaskar received the most media attention when he announced his foray into the film industry. Now 64, the former record-breaking opening batsman even made the covers of some of the top film magazines in India.
“Gavaskar, then the captain of the Indian team, did a Marathi film,” says Ahmed, but the 1980 film – Savli Premachi – fell flat at the box office. Gavaskar, who has recently been appointed the interim chief of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), followed that up with a cameo in the Hindi movie Maalamaal (1988), starring the veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, where the cricketer played himself.
The former batsman Mohsin Khan, the first Pakistani to score a test double century at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, gave up his successful cricket career to pursue acting. Khan, who married the Indian actress Reena Roy in 1983, bagged the highest number of films in comparison with other cricketers between 1991 and 1997. Perhaps best known among them is Mahesh Bhatt’s Saathi (1991); it did reasonably well but, like other cricketers attempting the crossover, Khan soon had to call it quits.
Ajay Jadeja and Salil Ankola, like Gavaskar, are probably the more recognisable of the washouts. Jadeja, whose high-flying cricket career came to a halt after a match-fixing scandal in 2000, played the lead in the 2003 Hindi movie Khel. The action drama – starring the mainstream action heroes Sunil Shetty and Sunny Deol – received a good opening, with some praise for Jadeja’s acting skills, but unlike his on-field prowess, it failed to impress the audience.
Ankola’s cricket days were short-lived, too, despite striking gold with films such as Kurukshetra (2000), starring Sanjay Dutt; Pitaah (2002); and Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne (2003). His boyish good looks also got him roles on television programmes such as Chahat Aur Nafrat and Karam Apna Apna. Ankola was last seen in the 2012 family drama Riwayat, which focuses on crimes against women and female infanticide.
Kapil Dev, one of India’s biggest cricketing legends, has also appeared in a few movies, including Iqbal (2005), Aryan (2006) and Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii (2007), but has sensibly stuck to cameos, appearing as himself.
“In the end, working in movies gives cricketers additional mileage because they are talked and written about a lot,” Ahmed explains. “Many have tried but none of them have succeeded because you require certain credentials. They may have proved themselves in cricket, but being an actor is a different ball game altogether.”