Many years ago, Aamir Khan nearly brought Indian an Oscar by playing cricket with the British for taxes, but the question that was seldom asked then was who taught Bhuvan to bat.
The answer to that is Dev Anand. In the movie “Awwal Number”.
Awwal Number is the greatest cricket movie ever made. Some say it is the greatest sports movie ever made, and if the imagination and reach of the human mind be the measure of greatness, Awwal Number surely makes a strong case.
Dev Anand is the director, story-writer and script-writer for Awwal Number and he is also the chairman of the cricket board, the chief selector, the Commissioner of police, who like Francis Xavier the XMen can communicate with people using telepathy, which explains how he can talk to the villain in the helicopter while being on the ground, and who can shoot like Deadshot, given how he brings the bad man down with precise shots as he flies above in that same helicopter.
Pushing the boundary of what has been accomplished in film, he makes Cindy Crawford a vital part of Awwal Number, going beyond uncredited appearance to unaware appearance, by casting her as his own deceased mother. Sheer brilliance, for who would be a more appropriate mother to Dev Anand than Cindy Crawford in the late 80s, for if child be the father of man, why not this?
Awwal Number surprises you with its unexpected insights and if you have seen the movie you know what I mean. Nothing really is what you would expect: people talk among themselves to provide exposition and back-story, a sign that says “Garware” is shown every time there is a boundary, the buxom vamp smuggles gold bars in her brassiere and later dances in a stage that is set up like a ladies toilet, cricketers are shown to be obsessed only about hitting sixes, and Dev Anand finds nothing unethical selecting his brother (played by the great Aditya Pancholi, or the man who knows paanch types of cholis) to the national cricket team and finds it perfectly fine to be only mildly annoyed when Aditya Pancholi as a kid shoots dead a man who disturbed him while he was playing cricket. His investigative methods are simple but direct: injecting truth serum into a suspected terrorist if he is a man and flirting with a suspected terrorist if she is a woman.
And that’s not all that makes you feel uneasy.
In a moment of prescience, Dev Anand lays out a sinister conspiracy by the LTTE, represented by authentically bad Tamil accented Hindi actors, to blow up the Prime Minister of India at a cricket game, in the late 80s (the movie released in 1990), a year before this would come to pass, and then that same motif of blowing up a stadium would be used by Christopher Nolan in Dark Knight Rises.
The legacy of Awwal Number is not limited to Lagaan. In a famous scene, Ekta gives Aamir Khan a recorder with “I love you ” recorded so that he can play it when he is hurt and confused. This is exactly what Aamir Khan does as he is felled by a bouncer, which gives him a minor blackening on forehead, that then after he plays the “I love you” disappears from his head in the next shot, thank you Mr. Perfection. Keen watchers of sports movies will recognize the hat-tip to this scene in that year’s Rocky V where Mickey tells Rocky, “If you ever get hurt and you feel that you’re goin’ down, this little angel is gonna whisper in your ear. It’s gonna say, ‘GET UP, YOU SON OF A BITCH, ’cause Mickey loves you.”
Pretty much the essence of Awwal Number.