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Where art thou sporting stars of Pakistan?

Baggio and Michael Jordan have recently been given on-screen biography treatment. What about our own local heroes?

By Abdul Majid |
PUBLISHED June 05, 2021

Inspiration is tricky. Sometimes it takes a decade to inspire someone; other times a moment is enough to motivate a whole generation.

Every country in the world has multiple inspirational personalities belonging to a wide range of fields to stimulate the minds of the youngsters towards picking up a certain art or a subject and/or a sport. Multiple known personalities in a country means kids can always find someone in their preferred field of interest and get inspiration from the life and work of who they are looking up to.

A country needs to invest in their stars to turn them into legends. Legends who will then inspire future generations, which leads to the development of a diverse and well-motivated human capital, something every country needs nowadays.

The process of transformation can be attained through any medium or through multiple ways. Countries can recognise their star personalities’ efforts with awards and also by giving them respected positions at places where the young ones spend most their time in their teens – a phase where they are coming to a decision of what they want to become and who their ideals are.

However, the best medium to inspire hundreds and thousands of youngsters nowadays is through a screen, something every teenager is currently addicted to. For that the stories of famous personalities need to be turned into movies, dramas and, for the current generation, web series to highlight their life, their struggles, their utmost will to become something bigger than the usual, their fight in the face of adversity, and their eventual victory to attain what they had set out for. In short, countries need to add a little more glamour and shine, with the help of screens, to their stars in order to turn them into legends.

This revelation came forward with the recent release of the Letizia Lamartire-directed Baggio: The Divine Ponytail. The Italian football legend’s story may have been crammed into a movie, which was missing large parts of his life and footballing career.

Meanwhile, there are quite a few recently released movies and documentaries about sports stars, such as The Last Dance, a mini-series which chronicles basketball legend Michael Jordan’s time with the Chicago Bulls.

There’s Pele, a 2021 documentary about the life of the legendary Brazil footballer. Earlier, a movie named Pele: Birth of a Legend also hit the screen in 2016 highlighting how the legend broke into the Brazilian team. Also, Diego Maradonna, a 2019 documentary film about the namesake Argentine football legend was a treat to watch.

And if one wants to look next door, India has already made a few biopics about some of their sporting stars such as boxer Mary Kom, and sprint stars Milkha Singh and Paan Singh Tomar. There are also movies made about cricketers MS Dhoni and Muhammad Azharuddin.

So, the point to ponder over here, in Pakistan’s perspective, is that why our filmmakers or even the people sponsoring movies have never forayed into the world of biopics?


Cinema-worthy legends

The first question that comes to mind is that do we have big enough legends in any field to turn their lives into cinematic experiences? Over the top of a Pakistani’s head, one can count many a stars-turned-legends such as the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Madam Noor Jahan in the field of singing. Then there is Anwar Maqsood, a living legend, in the field of dialogue writing. There’s actors like Waheed Murad, whose acting career and his rise to stardom will make the script of a perfect biopic. There’s Dr Abdus Salam, a Nobel Prize winner. There’s hockey legends who helped Pakistan win to World Cups and Olympics gold medals. And if none of the above are easy to make a movie about, then there’s Pakistan’s most beloved personalities, the cricketers.

The life of the sitting Prime Minister Imran Khan is a fairytale. His rise from being a cricketer to the captain of the World Cup-winning team and then his transformation into a politician is worthy of a three-hour movie.

And if we’re talking about moments, the six by Pakistan batting legend Javed Miandad on the last ball can turn into a perfect conclusion for a movie about the cocky right-hander.

The 2017 Champions Trophy victory by Pakistan, under the leadership of Sarfaraz Ahmed, can morph into a perfect motivational story with the lesson of never giving up, even if you’re ranked as the lowest side going into a tournament.

The two Ws of Pakistan cricket, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, provide the perfect plot for a mini-series, where they play for the same team but are healthy rivals when it comes to filling the wickets column.

The legend of former Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, from scoring the fastest century in his teens to helping Pakistan win the 2009 T20 World Cup is an award-winning plot.

Pace legend Shoaib Akhtar’s reality-defying 100mph-plus delivery is a moment to make a film about, batting legend Younis Khan’s centuries against all cricketing nations is an achievement to be highlighted in a movie, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed’s spin duo is worthy of a script.

Apart from well-celebrated heroes, Pakistan even has fallen heroes to talk about in the form of former pacer Mohammad Asif. His exceptional control over swing left even the greatest batsmen of his time fearing him, only for him to throw all of it away for in 2010 in a spot-fixing fiasco.

All in all, if the question is about stories which can be turned into award-winning documentaries or even commercialised movies, Pakistan cricket has enough material to last for two decades, at the least.


A question of will

The follow-up question to whether we have enough material to turn heroes into legends through screens can be if the people at the decision-making seats are ready to allow sports stars, in Pakistan’s specific case cricketers, steal the limelight.

This is a complicated notion to understand and can be only be understood courtesy the study of the collective psychology of humans. The question is simple, who doesn’t love to be the star of the show? The answer is even simpler, everyone.

In Pakistan’s case and according to many former cricketers, the officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) always thought they held a higher position than the players who actually went out on the field and performed for the country.

Akhtar once told the host of a PTV show that he was fined and banned for two matches for misconduct only because he didn’t say hello to the then PCB chairman, while passing through the lobby of the PCB headquarters.

Bowling legend Akram also remembered how he was once tested for fitness by the ‘expert’ asking him to make a few throws at the wickets. That’s it, no running and exercise whatsoever. He says he was the blue-eyed-boy back then, so whatever he did was accepted. However, there came a time when he had lost the favour of the higher-ups and faced problems.

There are hoards of stories told by former cricketers over how they were treated as inferiors by board officials, as they thought they were the real stars of the show, with the power to turn anyone’s career into folklore or a tragedy.

With such an attitude, there is clear reason why we haven’t been able to come out of the shadows of former cricketers and haven’t been able to replace them with newer stars, like India replaced Sachin Tendulkar with MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, like Australia had Steve Smith learning the art of becoming a star under the wings of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke.

The board, which runs the only sport that is played more than enough and is watched by nearly everyone, doesn’t have the ability to turn players into brands and stars. Sarfaraz was kicked out unceremoniously, Afridi never received a perfect farewell, off-spinner Saeed Ajmal retired during a domestic match. These are recent examples of mistreatment of stars and also of the inferiority complex that people at the helm of the PCB have.


To be or not to be

Lastly, there is also the question of whether our cricketers want to become legends or not. Imran Khan never thought he’d be known throughout the world one day. Wasim and Waqar would have never considered the possibility that their names would forever be taken together, as the legendary duo. Sarfaraz, who wasn’t even the first choice keeper in the 2015 World Cup, would have never thought that he would win the Champions Trophy for Pakistan in 2017.

All these stories sound familiar and in line with the pre-requisites for becoming a star and an eventual legend. All of them require sheer determination and undivided focus on doing the job that you’re supposed to do first and foremost, laurels and recognition will follow if you’re true to your job.

Secondly, the life of all legends has another common factor: hard work, something that even trumps raw talent and skill.

The example of Kohli, where he said he hasn’t even taken a bite of Biryani in nearly 10 years is the blueprint for how much one has to suffer and sacrifice in order to achieve greatness. On one occasion, India batting legend Rahul Dravid talked about the work ethic of Kohli, by revealing a scene where the Indian batsman came to the dressing room after scoring a match-winning hundred for India. Dravid went in to congratulate him and saw Kohli running on the treadmill. When asked why, Kohli said he felt tired after scoring a century and didn’t want to feel that way again because some day he may have to score a double century.

And this is just an example from a sport which nearly 20 countries play. Imagine what footballers go through to stay at the top of their game.

Now the question is whether our cricketers, our stars, are ready to sacrifice so much, work extra hard, run that extra mile, or avoid their favourite drink or food to achieve greatness? I don’t think so.