I am not a die-hard sports fan. I don't set my timetable around when the next game will be. But I do appreciate the human drama found through athletic competition.
Sports films that can identified as inspirational often have specific elements in their storylines:
- The protagonist is an underdog - someone who is faced with one or more major obstacles that they need to overcome to succeed.
- While the underdog has talent, success is achieved through hard work and practice.
- There is a compelling reason why the underdog absolutely, positively must win.
- And, in the case of the India cinema, some inspiring music while the hero is training.
With that in mind, here are initial picks for top 5 sports films from Bollywood.
About the title: "He who wins is the conqueror"
Release Date: 22 May 1992
Director: Mansoor Khan
Music by: Jatin-Lalit
Producer: Nasir Hussain
Description: The story revolves around an annual inter-collegiate cycling event between three schools ranging from wealthy Rajput to the not-so-wealthy Model School. In this year's the cycling championship, Model School's Ratanlal Verma (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) faces off with with rival Shekhar Matlhotra (Deepak Tijori) from Rajput who wins the race at the last moment. Shekhar is cocky and rude and people look forward to next year's cycling event when Ratanlal is sure to beat Shekhar. Throughout the year rivalry between the schools gets intense and personal, especially when Ratanlal's brother Sanjaylal (Aamir Khan) stirs things up by romancing the new girl from St. Anne's college. When Ratanlal is in an major accident that leaves him incapable of participating in the competition, Sanjaylal steps up to try to defeat Shekhar.
Why this film inspires: While the film highlights the intense the rivalry between the colleges (the haves and the have-nots) is also features themes of brotherhood, friendship and family. When the reluctant hero emerges, he emerges with a vengeance and finds the strength to persevere until the very end.
IIFA Recognition: Won Award for Best Film.
2. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India
Description: The film is set in 1893 at the height of India's colonial British Raj and revolves around the peasants from the small village of Champaner, a drought-stricken village oppressed by high taxes. The commanding officer of the local cantonment, Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne), announces the Lagaan will be doubled. The villagers, led by Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), oppose the tax increase. Russell responds by challenging the Indians to a game of cricket. If the Indians win, they will be free from taxes for three years. If the Indians lose, the villagers will have to pay three times the taxes. The game will be played by veteran British cricket players against villagers who have never played the game. With the challenge accepted, interest grows. Indians from all over the region and British from all over the country gather to see the "fair play" that the British display against their counterparts who are secretly aided by Captain Russell’s sister, Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley).
Why this film inspires: For the British, this is a game. For the Indians, this is a life-and-death struggle. The Indians form a group of unusual cricketers from a community of people who don't always get along. When they invite an "untouchable" onto the team, you realize each of them have been outcasts of one sort or another. Their strength comes in letting go of their issues with each other so they can come together as a team.
Note: If you are new to the sport of cricket, this movie will help you begin to understand and appreciate the complexities of the game.
IIFA Recognition: Won Awards for Best Movie, Best Director (Ashutosh Gowariker), Best Story (Ashutosh Gowariker), Best Actor (Aamir Khan), Best Music Director (A.R.Rahman), Best Lyricist (Javed Akhtar0, Best Playback Singer – Male (Udit Narayan) and Best Playback Singer – Female (Alka Yagnik)
Description: Iqbal (Shreyas Talpade) is an 18-year old deaf and dumb boy who lives in the tiny town of Kolipad. Unable to attend any kind of vocational school, Iqbal spends his days grazing his father’s buffaloes. He harbors a dream to make it to the Indian cricket team and has set up a makeshift pitch by himself where he practices bowling. While his mother (Prateeksha Lonkar) and sister Khadija (Shweta Prasad) support his dream, his father (Yatin Karyekar) sees cricket as a waste of time. Iqbal is accepted into a cricket academy but soon is thrown out when the other wealthier students take issue with a poor farmer’s kid stealing the glory. A shattered Iqbal picks up the pieces and enlists the help of the town drunk Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah), who once upon a time was a promising cricketer, to coach him. They support each other as their journey begins towards the seemingly insurmountable goal of making the national team.
Why this film inspires: Despite the obstacles and setbacks presented to Iqbal, he never gives up on his dream. He is focused, determined, and unwilling to easily back down. The characters are all believable, bringing a truth to the story that isn't forced. In the end, the film encourages us to believe that each of us is sent here to do one thing exceptionally well and if we want something badly enough, the universe will conspire to get it for us.
Note: Indian cricketer Kapil Dev has a cameo in this film.
IIFA Recognition: Best Actor (Shreyas Talpade)
4. Chak De! India (2007)
Description: After a disastrous loss to the Pakistan field hockey team, the Indian team captain Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is ostracised from the sport. He and his mother are further forced from their ancestral home by angry neighbors. Seven years later in an attempt to redeem himself, Khan becomes the coach for the India women's national field hockey team with the goal of turning its sixteen contentious players into a champion team. After leading the women's team to the Gold, Khan restores his reputation and returns with his mother to their home, welcomed by those who had shunned them years before.
Why this film inspires: While the film boasts superstar SRK, the real stars are the girls. They face many challenges in coming together as a team, but eventually they overcome their personal issues and recognize the strengths, gifts and talents of each other. The film explores issues surrounding individual and national identity, ethnic and regional prejudice, and sexism in contemporary India. In the end, trust in each other is what makes the win for India.
IIFA Recognition:Won Awards for Best Movie (Aditya Chopra, Producer), Best Director (Shimit Amin), Best Actor (Shah Rukh Khan), Best Cinematography (Sudeep Chatterjee), Best Editing (Amitabh Shukla), Best Sound Recording (Manas Choudhary, Ali Merchant), Best Sound Re-Recording (Anuj Mathur, Ali Merchant), Best Screenplay (Jaideep Sahni), and Best Story (Jaideep Sahni); Sukhwinder Singh was nominated for Best Playback Singer (male) for the title song.
5. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)
Description: This is film based on the life of "The Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar), an Indian athlete who was a world champion runner and a 1960 Olympian. Despite the chaos in his early life caused by the partition of India and Pakistan, he overcame hardships and repented from a life of crime. After joining the Indian Army he discovered his talent and passion for running.
Why this film inspires: It is a personal story about overcoming terrible circumstances, finding your strengths, and persevering until you achieve your goals. It also highlights that the "win" you are seeking may not be what you initially sought.
Recognition: The movie has received very positive reviews and Priya Joshi (Digital Spy) praises the film by saying, "It is a blessing that this film was made and the inspiring story of India's greatest sporting hero told to a generation who might otherwise never have known the legend of 'The Flying Sikh.' "
Find out more:
Released of 5 September 2014, the inspirational biopic Mary Kom tells the story of five-time female World Boxing Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom. Find out more:
What are your favorite Bollywood sports films?
If you like this post, check out our other Friday Five lists of Bollywood films.