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Iqbal is not only about cricket

By Deepti Patwardhan
Last updated on: August 26, 2005 17:27 IST
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Lance Armstrong's first autobiography, one of the most inspiring books and the biggest sports bestseller, simply read It's Not About The Bike.

It was his journey from a rebellious child to a cancer survivor to Tour De France winner. It was his fight against cancer that found a global recognition with the triumph in of the most grueling sports events.

Like Armstrong's bike, cricket is a metaphor; a benchmark of success in Nagesh Kukunoor's latest film, Iqbal. It works because of the kind of fervour cricket has whipped India's heartland.

It's not too hard to believe a woman in a nondescript village dancing in celebration as India wins a cricket match, already sowing the seeds of ambition in the child she's carrying.

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Iqbal (played by Shreyas Talpade) grows up to eat, sleep and live cricket. Like most 18 year olds, he detests work or sharing the responsibilities of earning bread and butter for his family. He is unique not because he is dumb and mute, but because he does not consider that a limitation. Neither do his mother and sister, who share his aspiration of becoming a cricketer in the national team.

Far from the growing 'scientific training' for cricket, Iqbal practices bowling alone on a dry patch of land with pruned branches as stumps. Steaming in from the other end, bare feet, his only aim is to strike the stumps.

His first taste of professional training comes when his sister convinces the coach (Girish Karnad) of the Kolipad Cricket Academy to enroll him. Though the politics in the Academy finally takes over and Iqbal is thrown out, he learns the most important lesson thus far: the difference when a batsman stands between himself and the wicket.

The disappointment lasts only for a while, till he finds out that the village drunkard Mohit (Naseeruddin Shah) had been a fast bowler for the state team but never quite went on to represent India.

While Mohit is happy drowning his frustrations in the bottle and leading an anonymous life, Iqbal just won't relent. He pesters Mohit into teaching him the finer points of bowling. Mohit picks up the challenge reluctantly, struggles to make him understand about the game in sign language.

When Iqbal finally achieves his dream and walks out of the Indian dressing room onto the ground, he can't hear the deafening cheers in the stadium. But he has lived the moment so many times in his dreams, he doesn't need to.

Iqbal is a simple tale of grit of an 18 year old and his family superbly told by Nagesh Kukunoor. The director takes care of the technicalities of cricket without delving into them too much. And the sprinkles of humour, like naming Iqbal's buffaloes after cricketers and making them field, helps ease the intensity.

The story does not have any twist and turns and runs on predictably. It is to Kukunoor's credit that he still holds the audience interest right down to the last ball. Actors bring the story to life with zealous honesty.

Shreyas Talpade, making his debut in Hindi films, puts in an outstanding performance. He virtually carries the film on his rugged shoulders, etching Iqbal's simplicity and courage. Through the film, you live with every emotion the character goes through. Shreyas manages to hold his own against actors like Naseeruddin Shah and Girish Karnad.

Shweta Prasad, Iqbal's sister, once again shows on-screen maturity beyond her age after Vishal Bharadwaj's Makdee.

Naseeruddin Shah moves around the film's canvas effortlessly, indifferent one moment, moved by the boy's determination the other. He becomes his teacher, then mentor, and finally a friend. His annoyance finally boils over with the cricket 'system,' when its politics try to sink Iqbal, just as they had once with him.

Despite the many reels of Iqbal's toil, the real conflict is depicted in the scene where his parents fall out over his persistence with the game. As his mother explains, their struggle to keep the stove burning, them running into debts or having to sell of their farmland was their failure; Iqbal's ambition had nothing to do with it.

It's a story that leaves you inspired and shows the power of the human mind. Iqbal is not only about cricket.

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Deepti Patwardhan