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Ittu Si Baat to 83—cricket films haven’t knocked it out of the park. They need a fresh ‘spin’

Going by what we have been served so far, the upcoming Chakda ‘Xpress, Mr and Mrs Mahi and Shabaash Mithu don't seem promising.

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Unlike its teaser trailer and stated online premise, Adnan Ali’s Banaras-based directorial debut Ittu Si Baat is only nominally a cricket-themed film, in the sense that it is an ittu si wahiyat romantic comedy that happens to have a club cricketer as its central character.

Overall, the cricket content in the film probably struggles to hit more than five minutes worth of screen time, as Ali is more interested in putting his fairly capable cast (featuring YouTube channel TVF regulars Atul Srivastava and Brijendra Kala in small roles) through the usual tired tropes that have killed this genre several times over.

Protagonist Bittu (Bhupendra Jadawat) nearly misses his Chunar Cricket Club match after he overslept but shows up in the nick of time to hit four sixes in four balls. Ittu Si Baat places its bland on-field moments secondary to the toxic tale of a guy trying to win over the iPhone-loving girl of his dreams.

The combination of blatant product placement, wooden attempts at emotional scenes, and poorly thought out depictions of harassment means that Ittu Si Baat doesn’t have much going for it and deserves its place among the year’s gutter pieces.

However, the very existence of this film and the attempts made to hoodwink audiences during the marketing stage indicates how Hindi cinema has been putting a lot of eggs in the cricket basket.

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More cricket on the way

Partly thanks to Covid-19 causing delays to the release calendar, there have been four notable cricket films in the past six months—Ranveer Singh’s 83, Shreyas Talpade’s Kaun Pravin Tambe?, Shahid Kapoor’s Jersey, and now Ittu Si Baat, despite the fact that it barely qualifies as one.

That’s not all, there’s also more cricketing content on the way that the public has been told to get excited about. Chakda ‘Xpress, starring Anushka Sharma as legendary seam bowler Jhulan Goswami, was announced by Netflix this January with an unspecified filming date. A purported romantic drama starring Jahnvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao, Mr and Mrs Mahi was announced by Dharma Productions and slated for release in October. And finally, there’s Viacom 18’s Taapsee Pannu-starrer Shabaash Mithu is hitting the screens on 15 July. The film will focus on the life and career of the recently retired India Women’s team captain, Mithali Raj.

But can we really expect to be optimistic about the quality of any of these upcoming films, after watching what has already preceded them? Of the four Hindi films I mentioned above, only Kaun Pravin Tambe? is a bonafide must-see, a beautifully crafted film. Despite its narrative missteps, it actually does justice to telling the story of its central subject. Yet, it wasn’t a mainstream theatrical release and its legacy will only last as a little-seen film overshadowed by far more popular content on its platform, Hotstar.

On the other hand, 83 was guilty of melodramatic nationalism, excessive use of super slo-mo and not letting the real-life story speak for itself. Jersey had better writing than 83 and had cool The Doon School-filmed bells and whistles but was inferior to the Telugu original in every way, making it a largely unnecessary remake.

Both films underperformed to varying degrees at the box office, perhaps due to unfortunate timing and pandemic-induced delays, and have now had a second chance at building a word-of-mouth fan following on Netflix.

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Tired plots, crowded schedule

On closer inspection, however, all three—83, Jersey and Kaun Pravin Tambe?—rest on a couple of the age-old ‘underdog story’ cliches and their differing qualities depended on execution.

With such a short turnaround between writing, filming and release in a crowded schedule, there are only so many ways you can get creative or impactful with these onfield depictions. Saturation from a quality standpoint is natural.

In a sense, it was a smaller-scale version of the kind of cinematic overload that put me off all Marvel Cinematic Universe content post-Avengers: Endgame.

Going by the limited promotional materials presented so far, I don’t have particularly high expectations for Chakda ‘Xpress, Mr and Mrs Mahi or Shabaash Mithu. Perhaps only the likes of Talpade have been able to succeed on the fictional cricket pitch more than once.

This past week’s signing of the astronomical Indian Premier League media rights deal for the 2023-27 cycle is thus little more than a consolidatory cherry on top of the sport’s popularity in India, and how it’s translating to a plethora of predictable plots and some bland biopics. The jury is out on whether the upcoming films will add anything significant to the subgenre surplus.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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