When Lagaan released two years ago, everyone shook their heads sceptically. Films about sport and sportspeople have never fared well.
In the 1980s, filmmaker Mohan Kumar made All Rounder with Kumar Gaurav as an aspiring cricketer. Then came Cricketer, which starred Marc Zuber, and even included India cricketer Syed Kirmani in the cast.
But no one wanted to see films about sportspersons. Even Mithun Chakraborty could not lure audiences into the theatres to see him play a boxer in Boxer. The recent Rishtey, which saw Anil Kapoor as a boxer, also failed. Both remakes of the 1970s Hollywood tearjerker The Champ crashed at the box-office.
One of the few films celebrating the spirit of sport that did well at the box-office was Prakash Jha's Hip Hip Hurray about a football coach's (Raj Kiran) efforts to bring a promising young footballer's career to achievement.
Aamir Khan's cousin Mansoor Khan worked on the same premise in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. The trendy hip and young plot converged on a marathon, echoing Dilip Kumar's tonga race in B R Chopra's Naya Daur.
Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan gave a new dimension to films on the sporting spirit. Weaving a tale of colonial conflict around the game of cricket, Gowariker had the entire nation rooting for the untrained rustic players.
Raveena Tandon admits Lagaan facilitated a film like her Stumped where cricket plays a big hand. "Though Stumped does not revolve around cricket, it shows the obsession of a nation with cricket and how it minimises more important aspects of society." Raveena says she would love to make her own version of Gurinder Chaddha's Bend It Like Beckham, with Namrata Shirodkar and Rani Mukherji in an all-girls team. "Maybe we can call it Bend It Like Tandon!" she laughs.
The international success of Lagaan and Bend It Like Beckham has once again brought into focus the close, though neglected, relationship between sport and cinema. If debutant director Gaurav Pandey's Stumped succeeds at the box-office, we can expect more films on sports and sportsmen.