Beyond All Boundaries, Sushrut Jain’s documentary on Indian cricket fanatics, could not be coming to this year’s 3rd i’s San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival at a better time. Such a documentary seems perfect placement, coming on the heels of the recent retirement of the greatest cricketer in the world, Indian Sachin Tendulkhar. And one of the three folks whose lives are followed in this documentary is predicted to replace his cricket excellency, a young boy named Prithvi of 11 or 12 who plays on teams well beyond his age and is a boy whose entire focus is to excel at cricket. Besides showing Prithvi’s assumed trajectory, it also shows how politicians embrace Prithvi in order to feed off his (hoped for) celebrity later.
Produced by Kunal Nayyar of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory, one of the aspects of Beyond All Boundaries I found most refreshing is that this documentary about a sport tied to a particular Indian expression of masculinity includes a woman fan and player, Akshaya. Akshaya plays because she enjoys the thrill of the game; however, her story (along with Prithvi’s) also follows the prototypical path out of poverty through sport, a path upon which she has placed greater financial dependency since she has less motivation to complete her secondary education. Yet the documentary puts into focus how women players cannot expect similar compensation as that which is provided to male players. In addition to this path often traveled by athletes, Akshaya’s story provides an interesting moment where the documentary crew intervenes on her behalf, providing students of documentary ethics a great deal to mull over.
The third individual followed is perhaps the biggest fan of Indian cricket ever, a man named Sudhir who has devoted his life to following the team wherever he can, his entire upper body often covered in body paint to resemble the Indian flag. During the last World Cup of Cricket, which partially took place in India, he tops his body as performance art with a facsimile of the World Cup of Cricket trophy. Sudhir works odd jobs to cover some expenses, but he is primarily assisted in his efforts by the good will of other cricket fans who understand his obsession and by the great Tendulkhar himself, who provides him with tickets for every match. Further demonstrating his devotion, he pedals on his bicycle from match to match. (Unfortunately, based on a recent BBC report by Andrew North, recent changes in transport policies in India privileging cars, and thus privileging the wealthy, might be making Sudhir’s travels to future matches much more difficult.) The physical endurance of his bicycle transit parallels his emotional commitment to his national team, and considering the types of road conditions he has to travel, Sudhir presents himself, to me, as an everyday athlete that goes unnoticed were it not for documentaries like this one.
Beyond All Boundaries has chosen three intriguing side stories that add layers to the many places cricket fits into individual, and collective, Indian lives. Even though the World Cup of Cricket enables a connection of these three dots, India’s efforts to claim the World Cup of Cricket trophy on home ground are the back story, not in the foreground. One does not need to understand cricket prior to watching the documentary since the narrative tension is around universal aspects of the human spirit transcending obstacles. However, if you are someone from a country where professional baseball is played and you are looking for a great book from which to learn cricket, I suggest Evander Lomke and Martin Rowe’s wonderfully accessible Right Off the Bat: Cricket, Baseball, Literature, and Life (Paul Dry Books, 2011). In this book, a baseball fan and cricket fanatic with respect for each other and each others game discuss the similarities and differences between the two sporting pursuits along with the cultural significance of each. Instead of ridiculing what I don’t understand as some U.S. sports commentators do, a book like Lomke and Rowe’s and documentaries like Beyond All Boundaries give me glimpses of understanding. (And if this doc piques your interest, you might want to move on to my favorite cricket documentary, Fire in Babylon, which played at the San Francisco Mostly British Film Festival in 2012, about the dominance of the West Indies cricket team in the 1980’s.)
Of course, Beyond All Boundaries is not the only film worth catching at 3rd i. Another one of personal interest for me is Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s Celluloid Man (2012), which chronicles 100 years of South Asian cinema. In addition, Pratibha Parmar extends her focus on Alice Walker as one of the three African-American woman presented in A Place of Rage (1991) to an entire documentary on Walker entitled Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth (2013). And yes, Bollywood will be represented, this year’s selection being the romantic comedy Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) by director Maneesh Sharma and featuring the eye and ear candy coupling of Sushant Singh Rajput and Parineeti Chopra.
3rd i’s San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival runs this year from November 6th-10th with a stop on November 16th in San Jose. For the entire schedule, go here: http://www.thirdi.org/events/category/festivals/2013/films-2013/