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Bollywood Sports Films on Teacher-Student Bonding

This Teachers’ Day, we look at some sports-based films which have had the essence of the teacher-student bond

The dynamics of the teacher-student relationship have been explored in Bollywood over the years through films like Do Aankhein Baarah Haath, Parichay and Sir. Filmmakers have tried to capture the reverence, camaraderie and the bond that a teacher shares with his pupils. But of late, the one genre of cinema that has captured the essence of the guru-shishya tradition is sports. Coaches have replaced classroom teachers as Bollywood takes the teacher-student relationship out of the classroom and into the sporting arena. Be it Shah Rukh Khan’s Kabir Khan who manages to get a bunch of misfits to be the best women’s hockey team in the world, or Naseeruddin Shah’s Mohit who enables a deaf and mute boy achieve the glory that had eluded him as a youngster, coaches in Hindi films are more than just physical trainers. They epitomize all the qualities the ideal teacher should possess ­ compassion, empathy, warmth, focus, leadership, and the ability to be hard on their protégés.

CHAK DE INDIA (2007)

Kabir Khan, the women’s hockey coach, is a complete antithesis of one’s idea of the ‘ideal teacher’. He is excessively tough on the players, can be egotistical, and does not shy away from being the bully while training. But behind his seemingly harsh methods is a sound rationale ­ that of turning this bunch of ragged misfits from all parts of the country into a cohesive unit that depend upon one another and trust one another. When he proclaims, “Har team mein sirf ek hi gunda ho sakta hai… aur is team ka gunda main hoon“, he is making it clear that he is the authority to which the players must accede. Combining the need for tough love that a professional sports coach needs to give his pupils with the essential lessons of teamwork, discipline, and focus, the film gives us a teacher that is unlike any other. He is abrasive, blunt, and demands respect instead of commanding it. But like any teacher, he in spires his pupils, best epitomized by the now-iconic ‘sattar minute’ speech he gives before the World Cup final. When he says, “Toh maine socha ki is match mein kaise khelna hai aaj main tumhe nahi bataonga, balki tum mujhe bataoge khel kar”, he is letting the players find their own feet without spoon-feeding them.

BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG (2013)

The Farhan Akhtar-starrer portrayed two teacher-student relationships. The first is Milkha’s relationship with his Army coach (played by Pavan Malhotra), the man who first spots his talent. This teacher is a father figure, who brings the best out of Milkha and guides him through the initial phase of his career. The coach is someone the athlete can confide in and yet someone who inspires him. When he tells Milkha “Paisa kamane ke liye bhi paise ki zaroorat hoti hai”, he is indoctrinating a young man about one of the realities of life, going beyond his role as a coach and becoming a mentor. The second is Milkha’s relationship with national coach Ranveer Singh (Yograj Singh). This has all the traditional attributes of a classroom teacher-student relationship ­ respect, deference, allegiance, and even obedience. The two contrasting relationships have one thing in common though. They both inspire excellence in our protagonist; the way a teacher does for his pupil.

IQBAL (2005)

What makes Iqbal unique is that perhaps no other mainstream Hindi film has centered on the relationship between a player and his coach. The film breaks away from the stereotype of showing the growth of the pupil as the coach guides him through the twists and turns of life. In this tale of a deaf and mute boy who aspires to play for the Indian cricket team, and a washed out former fast bowler, both the pupil and the master help each other overcome their demons. Mohit, played by Naseeruddin Shah, identifies the unique ability of Iqbal (Shreyas Talpade), teaching him the technicalities of the game and giving him the confidence to face the world. He tells Iqbal, “Yeh dimaag ka khel hai joh dil se khela jaata hai… dimaag aur dil jab ek saath kaam karte hai na toh farak nahi padta hai ki dimaag kaunsa hai aur dil kaunsa hai“, teaching him that spirit and passion are as necessary as brains to excel in life. Iqbal, in turn, helps his coach move past his own insecurities and failures by helping him find solace in his protégé’s successes. It is the perfect tale of how sometimes students end up giving subtle life lessons to the teachers themselves.

PAAN SINGH TOMAR (2012)

Although not a sports film strictly, it dealt with the rise and fall of a distance runner and his descent into the world of crime. The protagonist here is a carefree Army jawan who only takes up athletics because that gives him access to a better diet within the Army. The coaches and the senior officers take this nonchalant young man and turn him into a focused athlete who runs to win and not for free food. The film displayed the authoritative side of a teacher, and how teachers can harness a student’s skill by giving them focus and discipline.

MARY KOM (2014)

In this biopic of the five-time world champion boxer, the relationship between the protagonist and her coach Narjit Singh (played by Sunil Thapa) is ar guably the most important aspect of the story, if not the most prominent. Here is a coach who does not cajole his protégé; one who believes in tough love and manages to turn a young, enthusiastic boxer into the best in the business. When he first encounters Mary, the coach makes it clear that he will only train her if she is ‘worthy’ of the training. He is frank and blunt enough to openly express his disapproval when his ward decides to marry . But despite that, it is clear that Mary Kom trusts the coach’s judgment and his ability to bring out the best in her. This is exemplified by the fact that when Mary returns to boxing, she turns back to Singh for guidance, ignoring the bad blood between them.

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