The story goes that Walt Disney was in the audience when Donald Bradman got out for a duck during Australia’s tour of North America in 1932. Something clicked in Disney’s mind and gave birth to Donald Duck. Although Bradman finished his career some 16 years later with a duck that’s still debated animatedly, he had little role in the success of the animated Duck. But cricketers the world over have often tried their hand at acting. Some, like England’s Aubrey Smith, were also mildly successful.
Indian cricketers, however, haven’t had the rub of the green in this area. Perhaps the most famous shot at the silver screen was by Sunil Gavaskar, who played leading roles in two Marathi flops, Savli Premachi and Zakhol. After that, he only made a guest appearance in the Naseeruddin Shah-starrer Maalamaal, playing himself. Before him, Salim Durrani, the pin-up of the 1960s and 1970s, appeared opposite the alluring Parveen Babi in Charitra, and quickly disappeared from the scene to enhance his reputation as a batsman who hit sixes on spectators’ demand.
Sandeep Patil, who had some following among female fans, though not quite as much as Durrani, romanced Bong beauty Debashree Roy in Kabhi Ajnabee The, but more people heard of the pair’s off-screen romance than saw the film. Patil’s teammate Syed Kirmani played the villain, but, despite his bald looks, came nowhere close to replicating the success of Bollywood’s other bald villains.
More recently, Ajay Jadeja, a consummate dancer who can hold his own analysing cricket on the channels, appeared in Khel opposite Celina Jaitley. Jadeja’s one-time teammate Vinod Kambli appeared in some other nondescript film. But the two players, who once tamed Shane Warne in Sharjah, failed to score at the box office.
Still, it will be incorrect to say that cricketers have failed as actors. The many commercials they do always crop up as a sore point with fans whenever the team loses, but they have turned the players into actors. Sachin remains as awkward before the camera as when he first squeaked “Gillette” (perhaps before he had begun to shave). But Sourav Ganguly did look the part in some soft drinks commercials towards the end of his captaincy. The true eye-openers, though, are Virender Sehwag and, even more so, Yuvraj Singh, who appear in separate spots for a private insurance company.
In the matter of a few lines, Singh effortlessly morphs from a triumphant player talking of his six sixes in one over to a man shuddering over memories of injury and being out of the team. “So long as your bat is working,” both of them say, “you are on a roll. When it stops working…”, and trail off. The spots, though they make a strong case for insurance, make a stronger case for longer roles for these “actors”.