The teaser of Chakda ‘Xpress — based on the life and struggles of Jhulan Goswami — dropped Thursday. In a season of cricket movies, from Ranveer Singh portraying Kapil Dev in 83 to Shahid Kapoor picking up the bat for Jersey, Jhulan’s story stands out because she took up the sport when not many women in India really did. She made her international debut in 2002 and has had a career spanning two decades. An all-rounder, Jhulan is regarded as one of the greatest bowlers in the history of women’s cricket. She holds the world record for most wickets, was ranked first in the ICC Women’s ODI bowling rankings in January 2016 and even has a postage stamp issued in her honour.
But no one is talking about any of this after the Chakda ‘Xpress teaser release.
Anushka’s casting has once again brought back the brown-face debate and Bollywood’s preference for stars over role-fit actors. Her over-exaggerated (almost caricature-ish) accent of Jhulan too doesn’t appear convincing. The moment Anushka asks ‘Jab jarsey (jersey) apne naam ka nahi, toh phan kees naam ko phollow karega?’ you understand what’s wrong with this casting. I have seen the teaser over 20 times to find if there is anything Anushka does that even closely resembles Jhulan. The answer is ‘no’.
I am not a Bengali, but it doesn’t take one to understand that this stereotypical portrayal of how one talks is overdone and bordering offensive. I have probably done more homework on Jhulan writing this article than Sharma has done to portray her. At least that’s what the teaser suggests.
A woman of few words, if one goes by her interviews, Jhulan speaks enough but never a word extra. Her humour is sarcastic and dry which she compliments with a slight smile to fool the person in front of her. A tinge of her Bengali accent looms while she speaks, but is nowhere close to the way Anushka pronounces ‘jarsey‘, ‘kaal‘ (for kal) and cheenta karo na (don’t worry). Standing 5 feet 11 inches, Jhulan has a looming presence but is never in your face. She carries a silent confidence, evident in her interviews.
In a country obsessed with cricket but where the game remains male-dominated, the likes of Jhulan, who worked their way up, are no less than titans. These women who now have achieved so many laurels had an uphill task. Jhulan used to take a five-hour train journey each day from Chakdaha to Kolkata to train to become a professional cricketer. Her teammate Mithali Raj also has a biopic lined up which was recently wrapped up — Taapsee Pannu plays the cricketer.
Propel stories, not stars
Chakda ‘Xpress is set to release on Netflix, which then begs the question, with no pressure to bring in audiences and a platform for so many to watch the movie, why couldn’t the producers choose someone more fit for the role — someone who wouldn’t need a bronzer or wouldn’t put on a horrible fake accent? From her presence to the way she stands, nothing about Anushka resembles Jhulan.
Bollywood’s focus has remained on male cricket stars and it is great to see women now taking the forefront. However, the intention should be to propel the stories of these cricketers forward and not an actor’s popularity or ‘comeback’. The trailer hasn’t dropped yet and shooting is yet to begin. We can only hope that the movie is nothing like the teaser because it would be a disservice to Jhulan and her story, which should inspire as many as possible and not people lamenting over Anushka’s poor performance.
“If the BCCI were to institute a ‘Hall of Fame’ for women’s cricket in India, Jhulan Goswami would certainly feature”, reads the ICC website. Everyone deserves to be told this Hall of Fame story in the best way possible.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)