Cinema and sports: enduring, high scoring partnership

New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) Cinema and sports, the two abiding loves of Indians all over, are intersecting as never before. If sports stars are turning actors and producers and providing creative fodder for Bollywood filmmakers, tinsel town is also doing its bit by pumping in money and providing glitz to various sports leagues.

It's a unique, symbiotic relationship and it's getting stronger.

Bollywood films on London Olympics bronze medalist M.C. Mary Kom and 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh are already in the pipeline, while actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty are doing their bit in promoting various sports.

"The synergy (between cinema and sports) beats me," filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, who is making "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag", the biopic on Milkha Singh, told IANS. Actor Farhan Akhtar, who plays the legendary athlete in the movie, is hoping the film will serve as an inspiration for youngsters to take athletics more seriously.

The buzz is that more filmmakers are waiting to bring heroic tales of other sports icons -- hockey star Dhyan Chand, for instance -- to the big screen.

This is, of course, not new. In an earlier era were films like "Awwal Number", "Hip, Hip, Hurray" and "Saaheb". But the trend really caught on after 2000 when Bollywood readily began to use sports as a canvas in movies like "Lagaan", "Iqbal", "Chak De! India", "De Dhana Dhan Goal", "Meerabai Not Out", "Victory", "Lahore" and "Patiala House".

And it's no longer about just cricket, points out Omung Kumar, who is directing the biopic on Mary Kom, to be played by Priyanka Chopra.

"Sports and films are always loved in our country. But cricket became a highlight. Now, all sports are gradually getting due respect. As far as biopics on sports stars are concerned, they are often inspiring tales which touch the heart," Kumar told IANS, adding that he had been inspired to tell the boxing champion's story even before she had won an Olympic medal for the country.

Superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who is tipped to play Dhyan Chand, has always been forthcoming in promoting any and every sport.

Shah Rukh, who teamed up with Sachin Tendulkar for the hugely successful Pepsi commercial in the 1990s, is always game.

"I actually would like to be the brand ambassador of any sport in the country. I am good at sports. I love sports. I like cricket. Hockey is the best game in the world," the 47-year-old said recently.

Shah Rukh, who played a hockey coach in "Chak De! India" and has lent his name to the Toyota University Cricket Championship, is co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, a franchise of the Indian Premier League (IPL), a Twenty20 cricket championship started here in 2008.

The event serves as one of the biggest platforms for India's twin passions - cinema and cricket - to come together. Actresses Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta also own IPL franchises.

There are other stars associated with different sports - Sanjay Dutt backs the Super Fight League, Akshay Kumar supports the Hockey India League and hosts Kudo Tournaments, Salman Khan and a host of other actors promote the Celebrity Cricket League, Suniel Shetty owns a hockey team in World Series Hockey and Ranbir Kapoor keeps unofficially promoting football.

There was also buzz that Aamir Khan and Deepika Padukone would endorse a Badminton India League.

And while Bollywood biggies are at it, sports stars are making the right moves too.

There's tennis ace Leander Paes, who made his acting debut with "Rajdhani Express" earlier this year. His colleague, Mahesh Bhupathi, and the latter's wife, actress Lara Dutta, ventured into film production in 2010 with "Chalo Dilli".

Then, badminton star Jwala Gutta grooved to an item number in southern film "Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde", and cricketer Harbhajan Singh recently exercised his vocal chords for a Punjabi number.

Sports stars' love for the glamour world isn't new - cricketers Vinod Kambli and Ajay Jadeja had tried their luck with films like "Annarth" (2002) and "Khel" (2003), respectively. So what if they didn't work! The others scored big time.

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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