From stadiums to screen, a leap for Bollywood

May 17, 2010 Ruchika Kher

New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) Sports never really fired the imagination of Bollywood directors until "Chak De! India" happened three years ago. Now a slew of movies inspired by real life sports personalities are being readied to bowl out audiences.

"Paan Singh Tomar", "Thank You" and "Bhag Milkha Bhag" promise to be sports films that will bring to the screen the emotion, drama and twists and turns in the lives of Indian champs.

Tigmanshu Dhulia, who made films like "Haasil" and "Charas", is busy with the biopic on Paan Singh Tomar, a national steeplechase champion who ultimately left the army and the track to became a bandit.

He has certainly picked up an interesting personality as Paan Singh's life is unique for his excellence as an athlete and then the havoc he created as a bandit of the Chambal ravines.

Depicting Paan Singh's story has not been a cakewalk as the makers are having to separate fable from fact.

Produced by UTV Motion Pictures, it stars Irrfan Khan in the title role and Mahi Gill as his wife. Irrfan has been working hard to look convincing as the steeplechase champion and took intensive training for the film.

Filmmakers Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Anees Bazmee are toeing the same line.

Bazmee is making "Thank You", in which actress Sonam Kapoor's character is said to be loosely inspired by tennis star Sania Mirza.

"Sonam's character is not based on Sania Mirza; it is just inspired by her," Bazmee was quoted as saying.

Mehra is working on a film titled "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", based on athlete Milkha Singh, also known as the Flying Sikh who came fourth in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

"This guy had nothing and still he made a spectacular success of his life. His life has such a resonance. I'd be depicting his life from age 13 to the age of 28," said Mehra.

Milkha Singh was only 13 when he watched his whole family being massacred in undivided India. He didn't know where to go and somehow made his way to Delhi on a refugee train.

"Milkha Singh's story was inspiring. The theme is - 'zindagi se bhago nahin, zindagi ke saath bhago'. It's very relevant to today's life," said Mehra.

While Akshay Kumar and Abhishek Bachchan are the frontrunners for the title role, no one has been finalised yet. The film will be scripted by Prasoon Joshi.

Before "Chak De! India" happened in 2007, sports-based movies were not so popular.

Based on hockey coach Mir Ranjan Negi's life, the Shimit Amin-directed film not only became a blockbuster but was also described as one of the best sports-based films after Ashutosh Gowariker's Oscar-nominated "Lagaan" and Nagesh Kukunoor's "Iqbal".

The film saw Shah Rukh Khan as disgraced coach Kabir Khan who takes it upon himself to train the women's hockey team and also clear his name.

In the same year a slew of movies based on sports came, but most of them bit the dust at the box office like "Hattrick", Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji's "Ta Ra Rum Pum", "Dhan Dhana Dhan...Goal" and "Meerabai Not Out".

Only Dharmendra-Sunny-Bobby Deol- starrer "Apne" clicked at the box office.

Others in the flop list are "Say Salaam India", "Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii" and "Dil Bole Hadippa".

Even director Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan's recent film "Lahore" on cross-border kickboxing champions failed to impress movie buffs.

Film critic Omar Qureshi told IANS: "Real life is always more fascinating than fiction. For how long can a filmmaker make films revolving around love stories, lost and found brothers, rich boy and poor girl? Everyone is tired of that and is trying to explore fresh themes."

In the past, one of the few who saw success with a sports-based movie was Mansoor Khan. In 1992, he released "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander" that had cycling as its backdrop and it was a huge draw.

Prakash Jha started his career with the critically acclaimed film "Hip Hip Hurray" that released in 1983.

It was followed by Mithun Chakraborty's hit film "Boxer" (1984). But Kumar Gaurav-starrer "All Rounder" that came in the same year was rejected by the audiences. Even Naseeruddin Shah's 1988 release "Maalamaal" failed to impress.

In 1990, Dev Anand made an attempt to cash in on cricket mania with Aamir-Ekta-starrer "Awwal Number", but it bombed at the box office.

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