Sunday, December 4, 2011

Awwal Number Entertainer - a cricketing obituary

(This post also appears on

Even as the country mourns the death of the evergreen entertainer Dev Anand, cricket fans probably recall his cricket movie Awwal Number with indulgent affection.

The legendary actor of Kala Paani, CID, Guide, Hare Rama Hare Krishna and many other celluloid landmarks also left his mark in the quaint area where two national passions – Bollywood and Cricket – intersect on silver screen.

Much before Lagaan, Iqbal and the less successful Chamatkaar, it was this eternal charismatic showman who made the first well known cricket movie.  
The Sandeep Patil, Syed Kirmani starrer Kabhi Ajnabi The did not set the box office on fire, and although the likes of Salim Durrani and Mohsin Khan for a while hovered around the edges of cinematic stardom, cricket and Bollywood till then had been largely limited to the off screen romances between the cricketers and the actresses.

Dev Anand merged the two with his Awwal Number which starred Aamir Khan, Aditya Panscholi and Ektaa, with the actor-director himself playing the role of an ex-cricketer turned selector.

While we can cast an indulgent eye towards the merits of the actual movie, what is very evident is that Dev saab went about making it with the same flamboyance that forever defined his attitude towards life.

In the film Aamir Khan made his debut for India in a One Day International against Australia, replacing the out of form superstar batsman Aditya Panscholi. He hooked with elegance, but played with an awful cross bat on the off side – and although he replicated the danda-goli manoeuvres as he took guard in Lagaan, his batting technique did show signs of significant improvement in the latter film.

While Alfred Hitchcock, in spite of his cricket-ignorant American background, used the ‘abandoned due to flood’ Manchester Test Match of 1938 with spot on historical accuracy in The Lady Vanishes, Ashutosh Gowariker stumbled on the back foot no ball rule during the otherwise historically accurate Lagaan. However, Dev Anand overcame these sorts of factual challenges with characteristic panache, nonchalantly ignoring them and steadfastly sticking to entertainment.

So what if the Australians for some reason chose to have 3 slips in place even as India required 6 runs to win the ODI off the final ball? So what if an on drive was depicted as a horrendous cow shot played while a bent rear knee touched the ground? So what if the bowling actions in the film continue to give innumerable coaches lifelong nightmares? There was enough massala to balance the equation.

A last ball six – a la Javed Miandad, a disgruntled axed batsman who tries to set off a bomb planted under the cricket pitch, a poor struggling cricketer who catches attention by cleaning Sunil Gavaskar’s car, cricket action at the Wankhede caught from a helicopter ... in all this, Dev Anand displayed how he lived till his last day – as a pure unadulterated entertainer. 

May his soul rest in peace.

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