Some of our favourite sports movie cliches- the ridiculous and the sublime
Is there a genre more given to cliches than the sports film? Even the best of them (we are talking Lagaan or Chariots of Fire) stick to a tied and tested template that begins with slow-mo jogging in the first 15 minutes and ends with a slower-mo celebration in the last 15. What elevates these movies from good (or terrible) to great though, is not so much their deviation from the tropes as the sincerity with which they adhere to them. Play these cliches straight and we will fall for them every single time.
We shared some of our favourite sports movies with you last week, and this week we take a look at the best-and worst- of Sports Films 101
The Coach With “Something to Prove”
When done well the character of the disgraced coach with a chip on his shoulder can be as finely etched as Kabir Khan in Chak De or Haymitch in The Hunger Games. But there is just as likely to be a Tony Singh from Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal to convince you that this trope doesn’t have a 100% batting average (how’s that for a sporting metaphor!)
For an extra side-order of cliché, make sure the coach also has a drinking problem and (potentially) a designer stubble!
A Rag Tag Bunch of Misfits
A Tinker, a Tailer, A Soldier, A Sailor. This perhaps is our favourite part of a sports movies- the way these disparate team members come together and learn to gel as a unit. And within this scheme of things, we love it even more if the team can be that of fiercely competitive women, like in some of our all-time happy watches A League of Their Own and Bring It On!
The Disapproving Relative
You know the one, the one who says you will never amount to anything. The one who perhaps nurses an image of his own sporting days in a sepia-tinted album somewhere. The one who thinks that tough love is the best way to protect you from yourself. The one who will, however, be there at the stadium for the final game/match/race, and find it in his heart to grudgingly embrace your talent. Rishi Kapoor in Patiala House was a recent textbook example of this stereotype.
The Not-So-Subtle Racism
Just like the real thing brings out our baser jingoistic instincts, the films about sports often peddle in unsubtle and uncomfortable racist stereotypes. The one that particularly gets our goat is the paper thin characterisation of Western women, who are either English roses with a native fixation (like in Lagaan), or the instrument that defeat our hero’s manly sportive mojo (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag). We don’t watch sports (or sport films) for a sociological lesson, but firmly believe that both need to grow up from their racist roots.
The Physical Transformation As Great Acting
Critics and colleagues competed with each other to praise Farhan Akhtar for his performance in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag last year, but in our opinion, the only actorly muscles he flexed were those of his carefully groomed six pack. A sports movie and its accompanying hype wouldn’t be complete without focusing on the exercise and diet regimen that the “actor” undertakes to get into “the spirit of the role”. Later this year, expect critics to not comment on the latent racism of Priyanka Chopra playing a North Eastern Mary Kom, but to focus their energies on the tininess of her waist and the gleam of her biceps. When it comes to sport movies Muscles= Moolah.
The Evil Competitor Who Is Willing To Do Anything
Of course it’s not enough that Deepak Tijori is richer, has the hotter girl friend and has a much more expensive designer cycle. He also has to resort to mean underhand tricks to win the climactic race in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander. But this is not the only movie to parley in this trope. All the way from Rocky to Lagaan, screenwriters are likely to demonize the opponent, making the final victory that much sweeter.
The Threatened Veteran
Shilpa Shukla played the cynical senior player with aplomb in Chak De but spare a thought for Aditya Pancholi, the veteran cricketer who lost his Awwal Number (also known as the “other” cricketing movie with Aamir Khan in it) to the young upstart cricketing prodigy, played by Mr. Perfect himself! So distraught was he by this betrayal of fortunes that he became a pawn in the hand of terrorists threatening to blow up the cricketing pitch where Aamir was batting for his maiden century. But the threatened veteran trope only ever works if said veteran repents and becomes a team player, and an international act of terrorism may just be a step too far for that denouement.
The Speech That Changes it All
And that’s what it boils down to. The rag tag team may come together in spite of the odds. The disgraced coach may come this close to redemption. The competitors may try every dirty trick known to mankind. The parental authority figure may stand in the audience and slow clap. But to really win the final game, there has to be a speech. It could come from the Captain, or the Coach, or occasionally in holographic form from a recent dearly-departed friend. On occasion, the athlete may find his own younger speech reappear, floating on a diary page, to make this final speech. But for a sports movie to be successful, it must end with a speech that causes the audience to stand up in thunderous applause, and say “you show them!”. And while everyone has their favourite, our heart belongs to perhaps the shortest one ever made in the fabulous show Friday Night Lights. And there really is no better way to end an article on the most sublime of sports clichés than with these words.
Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose