Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Indian football - a perspective

Disclaimer: This post is in response to the following post on goal.com. The author has written a passionate piece but I do not agree with certain aspects. I look at an understanding of the broader picture to better appreciate the situation.

“Don’t blame cricket, blame yourself!”

When I first read this, I was thinking, ‘wait a minute! I don’t actually blame cricket. I’m a football fan. So does that mean that I should blame myself for India’s lack of quality in football?’ Well, most certainly not. I am not to blame, and neither are you. Hell! No one is to blame and all of us are to blame.

While Yash Modi has written a passionate plea replete with facts about small nations and even a social experiment, what he fails to do is essentially capture the essence of why what is what it is. He asks us not to blame cricket. Spot on. He says that we love football but not INDIAN football. Once again, bulls eye! Yet there are a couple of points he makes that I don’t quite agree with, simply because of the context, or the lack of it.

“Slovenia. A tiny mountain-laden nation nestled in between Austria and Croatia spreading over 20,000 sq km with a population of 2 million. Now here’s why these statistics are important. Their FIFA World Rank is 25 and they are participants in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.” Yes. A small nation indeed and indeed a very small population. Yet, look at 2 very important words in that statement: Austria and Croatia. Two countries, who have been good footballing nations in their own right. Also, Slovenia is not that far away, and in fact shares borders with Italy and Hungary – footballing powerhouses; one still, and another historically.

“Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean nation, have 1.2 million citizens living on an island that’s 5000 sq km in size. They lie 95th in the FIFA World Rankings and had participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.” Again, look at it in the broader perspective. Trinidad and Tobago gained independence from the British only in 1962. Surely, the effect of their culture was not lost on them. Cricket is a testament to this fact.

It’s great to read such a passionate article and be moved about the bad state of Indian football and why who is to blame. Yet, looking at it in the broader context, all is not doom and gloom, really. I appreciate the article and the passion in it, I really do but what I don’t quite concur with is that there is anyone to blame.

First, look at it historically. If you want to blame anyone really for the under-development of football in India, blame the British. Yes, the British. I’ve gone crazy, you might say but just spare a thought. Cricket, football, tennis, badminton, polo – all brought to India by the British. They might have existed in different forms in India previously but not as organized sport. It was the British who truly brought organized sport into India. If you’ve read ‘A corner of a foreign field’ by Ramachandra Guha, you’ll come to appreciate the history of cricket in India; how it was and how it grew. If you haven’t read it, you really should. There he examines not only the sporting factors but also the socio political factors that governed cricket and helped in its spread.

Cricket was simply more accessible (though you may ask how cricket, where obviously more equipment is needed than just a football is more accessible, it just was.) The British in India did not play football, or at least not nearly as much as cricket. Cricket is what people saw the ‘firangs’ playing and this is what captured their imagination. Also, football was not an elitist sport. It was played by the lower classes in England and the primary audience was the throngs of working class who flocked for their Saturday afternoon fun in the sun after a long week’s labor. The British ruling classes in India were obviously from the upper classes and hence preferred the more ‘civilized’, if you like, cricket, tennis and polo. The traditional stronghold of Indian football, Goa, was ruled by the Portuguese, who were much more into football because of the vast number of traders who came and went frequently, imbibing their culture into the local culture.

As they say, the rest is history and well, the results are for all to see. Cricket captured the public imagination and has gone on from strength to strength. We could argue that, had football been given equal status and importance as cricket, we might well be playing at a world cup now. Yes, maybe we could but the fact of the matter is that we aren’t. Again, to look at why this is, we must look at the Indian psyche. We, as a race, are a far more peaceful people. We enjoy competition and the spirit of the game but are far more reluctant to watch people getting battered and bruised. Innately, we enjoy beauty and elegance rather than brawn. For this reason, cricket and tennis offers more to an Indian than does a football or rugby. Hockey is the notable exception but even that can be made an excuse of because of its elitist status that it held in the times of old. It was more artistry and skill, and still is.

In spite of all the hoopla about the world cup, it still remains a minority of the public’s imagination. ‘The 2010 edition is the most widely watched football event in India with viewership up by more than 35%’ said a report. Yet, the TRP was 1.2. Compare that to a TRP of 7 odd for IPL3 and you get an idea. Yes, football is growing exponentially. There is no doubt about it but we must accept that there is a fair way to go yet. There is no point in bemoaning the lack of success. Apologies for being blunt but, there is a distinct lack of it. Deal with it.

Whether we accept it or not, there is nothing like success to capture the imagination of a nation. I don’t know if people will agree but the 1983 Cricket World Cup win did something for cricket that no amount of advertising or money could do; it brought success. It showed us that we could compete with the world; not just compete but beat the best and be the best. This truly captured the imagination. Cricket has gone on from strength to strength and it is where it is today.

Having stated all that, I do agree with the author that more must be done. We must support our local clubs as well but look at the situation: You see a Messi, a Rooney, a Ronaldo and then you see an I-League match. The dip in quality can be quite disturbing and that essentially is the reason that puts off people.

Strides are being made, and will continue to be made. Patience is a virtue. Football is blossoming and will blossom in years to come. We have Indians plying their trade in foreign lands now. We have academies being set up and scouts coming to witness football at the grassroots level. With more exposure to the world class talent on show in the foreign leagues, more youngsters are inclined to take up the sport.

There is no point in saying that we care about football and not Indian football. There is no point in holding grudges against people for appreciating the European leagues and not the Indian league. Honestly, there is no comparison. People who like to watch good football will watch it and there is nothing wrong with it.

Suddenly, being a striker is fashionable just like being an all-rounder is. Being able to do a step-over is as good as being able to play an elegant flick shot. Indian football is growing. Indian football is slowly but surely coming of age. Let it; and once is has grown, we will know. Until that day comes, wait and watch. After all, even the mighty Rome was not built in a day.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Raavanan - Grey matter

Right from the get go, when you see the camera focus from behind on a half-clad Vikram standing on a cliff, testing the waters below and jumping, you know that you’re in for a visual spectacle. What follows is a movie of epic proportions, which is to say that it captures the essence of an epic and adds its spin on it. Raavanan with Vikram at its helm works on a certain level but most definitely fails on another.

Santosh Sivan (and Manikandan in the initial stages) successfully take your breath away with some drop dead stunning visuals and some of the most brilliant macro and close up shots. The locales are such that you’d be awed that such places actually exist in India. The lighting is brilliant. If nothing else, the film is worth a watch for the sheer opulence and natural grandeur that it exhibits.

A.R.Rahman’s music is slightly different to what we have come to expect. You cant call it inspired but it's not all bad. A lot of the background score has tribal elements with the racy scenes having a tribal chant set to an exceedingly fast beat. Quite awesome! The songs are blended brilliantly into the movie. The tribal rendition of ‘Kaatu Sirukki’ together with its screenplay is simply mind blowing. The choreography and music of 'Kodu potta' warrants a special mention.The phrase ‘leaving the best for last’ was never truer. Rahman’s song in the end (not included in the album) is so brilliant that you can’t help but feel lifted and moved by the rendition.

The casting, as ever, is impeccable. Vikram, as Veera, is simply awesome. He elevates his performance to another plane. As a proud brother, as a wounded soldier, as a brother in angst, as a man scorned willing for revenge, as a deranged lunatic caught in his own mind. Each is exemplary. There are even shades of Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker performance in Veera’s conflicted mind and Vikram’s portrayal of this is par excellence.

I must say that I was most surprised by Aishwarya Rai’s tamil. It was very good. The trace of an accent was there of course but hats off to her. Her portrayal of the damsel in distress and the helpless yet putting-on-a-brave face maiden is very good. Her dance in ‘Kalvare’ is superb. There was one scene that she dances in a shirt, in the rain. I swear, it was exactly the same as the ‘kannai katti’ song in Iruvar. She hasn’t aged a day! 

Karthik and Prabhu play their roles to perfection. Both maybe past their prime as mainstream heroes but they can still act, and how. The one scene where they appear together will definitely throw Mani Ratnam fans to the heydays of Agni Nakshatram. Priyamani comes for about 15 minutes of the film but yet again shows her brilliant acting skills. It can be said that she has matched her Paruthiveeran performance or maybe even surpassed it in her cameo in Raavanan.

Raavanan is an epic retold. In true epic style, it is not rushed but glides on in its own pace. Like an epic that goes through lulls and periods of extreme action, Raavanan waxes and wanes. The movie is the shortest Mani Ratnam has ever made. Yet, it is conflicting in a way. The first half appears to drag on but when the interval comes, it comes too soon. The second half picks up the pace and the climax has been shot brilliantly.

For the hardcore Mani Ratnam fan, Raavanan will not match up to the levels of Mouna Raagam, nayagan or Iruvar; possibly nothing ever will. Raavanan is not earth-shattering but is good, but lacking that telling ‘Mani Ratnam touch.’

Mani Ratnam has not set out to make a ract thriller. He has not set out to make an all-action entertainer. What he has set out to do is to retell an epic in his own distinct style. Most of us know the Ramayana and its characters as black or white. Mani Ratnam succeeds in greying this line.