9/10 sports movies end in a similar fashion. With the victory of persistence over struggle. And one understands why, this is how things play out for athletes in real life as well. Except, in reality, the victories are far less and the struggle, far more.
A good sports drama catches that sentiment. Even in the final shot when the crowd is cheering, one’s heart is with the protagonist, as well as actual athletes out there, who could never wear the Indian jersey because the circumstances got the better of them.
Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal achieves that with simplicity, and it is unfortunate that the film isn’t discussed as much as it should be.
It’s a good cricket movie, but more importantly, it’s a good movie. One doesn’t have to be a follower of the sport to feel for Iqbal (played by Shreyas Talpade), as he makes relentless efforts to become a professional bowler, while also trying to overcome the challenges of being a person with disabilities.
Iqbal’s father is a farmer and the sole breadwinner of the family. He wants his son to join him so that there can be two pairs of hands doing the job.
But Iqbal has different ideas, and he is so consumed by them, that he is oblivious to the challenges that, as a viewer, you know he is bound to face.
That’s a good depiction of passion. It often gives people the motivation to achieve things that seem unrealistic to everyone until they become real.
Iqbal practices on a small patch of land and tries to lip-read the local coach from a distance as his buffaloes graze.
This is when his sister Khadija (played by Shweta Basu Prasad), enters the scene. She is Iqbal’s voice and his ears. She is also his courage.
With her help, Iqbal gets a chance to train at the academy but soon gets ousted because he injures an influential star player who bullies him.
With all hope lost, Iqbal turns to Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah) who is an alcoholic and a bowler who quit cricket a long time ago.
The life of a broken ex-cricketer is not an unexplored subject but Nagesh manages to make Mohit different than the other versions of him in different movies.
We understand how tough it is to go cold turkey when it comes to quitting alcohol and what the fall from glory does to a person’s self-respect.
Mohit has a tough time looking people in the eyes, but when it matters the most, he overcomes his insecurity and does it. He stands up to Iqbal’s father, who, when he gets to know about his son’s training sessions behind his back, is angry and disappointed.
In the end, Iqbal achieves what he sets out to, but the success of the movie goes beyond that of its hero. The real triumph of Iqbal is in its nuances.
There is a scene where Iqbal and his mother Saida (played by Prateeksha Lonkar) are gleefully talking about his future, as the camera keeps cutting to his hand every time he takes a chapati from the tray.
This shows that they are so short on money, that an extra chapati eaten by a family member means someone, presumably, will have to eat one less.
In another scene, Saida tells her kids that she is in on their plan to get him trained at the local institute. Khadija starts celebrating, Iqbal follows a few seconds later. He realises that there is good news only after looking at his sister.
It is impactful, but not because it induces pity, and the credit for that goes to writer-director Nagesh, who has handled the discourse on disability with sensitivity.
Thanks to the heart put in by the actors and creators, the movie stands the test of time. Maybe cinema is similar to bowling in that aspect. As Mohit says in one of the scenes, “Ye dimag ka khel hai jo dil se khela jaata hai“.
On that note, I’ll leave you with one of the movie’s best gifts: Aashayein, a song that never gets old.