Mohammad Azharuddin wasn’t just any cricketer. Long before Sachin broke records like they were Ashish Nehra’s bones, Azharuddin owned pretty much every record in One Day International cricket. He was the cool, calm Hyderabadi who caught magical catches at slip, flicked balls outside off stump to mid-wicket, and starred in cool advertisements. But unlike Sachin, Dhoni and Dravid, Azhar wasn’t just your average down to earth cricketer. He had a reputation for flashy cars and watches, dated and married one of the most attractive models of the country, and most notoriously, was accused of running a nexus of betting and match fixing inside the Indian dressing room. Ekta Kapoor, who has a history of bringing to celluloid the lives of enigmatic personalities such as Silk Smitha, Haji Mastaan, and Tushar Kapoor
has decided to make a movie on Azhar bhai.
I understand the pressures of a Bollywood flick, but I’m interested in other stuff. For you see, the 90s were a crazy time in Indian cricket. Scams, surprising wins and shocking losses, and a time when you only saw and heard cricketers during cricket matches, unlike the 24*7 connected Twitter world of today. And within those crazy days, I have a few favourite moments that I’d love to see in the movie.
1. The Sidhu Rossogulla incident
The dressing room of the 90s was an assortment of colourful characters. There were the loud brash North Indians in the side who were popular, opinionated (and mostly batsmen). At the same time, there were silent, well-educated engineers who all mostly hailed from Karnataka and were bowlers.
So it happens that during a tournament, the team is in the hotel and watching a movie together. Sidhu who has watched the movie decides to skip it, and wants to eat Rossogulla that’s kept on the table. When he is about to take them, Manoj Prabhakar (another fascinating cricketer of the 90s), asks him to leave the sweets alone. Sidhu loses his cool and begins to fight with Prabhakar. Now, bear in mind that these are cricketers representing the nation, and fighting over a box of rossogullas. I don’t mean a quarrel or a squabble, I mean an actual, physical fight. Azhar was from the old city of Hyderabad, where nobody really fights with anybody because they’re too lazy to lift their hands. I wonder what the scene must be like!
2. Watches, women, and wickets
Azhar bhai dated the ex-girlfriend of Salman Khan, and went on to marry her. Now, we all know how it went for Vivek Oberoi, but Azhar bhai was a cool cucumber. The Tehelka sting operation on BCCI in the year 2000 reveals amazing facets to the man. The six part video is a must watch for cricket fans of the 90s, not only because one gets to see Ravi Shastri abusing like a drunk Captain Haddock. In the video, Gavaskar talks about Azhar’s love for watches. Of how he noticed a watch on a guy’s hand, enquired how much it cost, and went into the dressing room, brought out 5 lakhs in cash, and bought it from him!
3. The Azhar Sidhu flight back to home incident
No wonder Sidhu spends so much of his time on reality shows these days. He was quite the dramatic individual! Another classic 90s incident involves the two mercurial cricketers. It so happens that Sidhu was to play in a test match in England, and a few days before the start of play, he flew back to India and complained that Azhar was teasing him. The manager of the team called him aside and asked him about the problem. Turns out, Azhar kept saying “Maa ki Kirikiri”. This is a fairly common adage in Hyderabad, to signify someone irritating or chiding you. But Sidhu assumed it was an abuse and flew right back to India!!
4. Fixing matches
Azharuddin was among the key accused in the betting and match fixing racket of 2000. He was named by Hansie Cronje, guilty of meeting and dealing with bookmakers. The 90s were a strange time in cricket. You sat all day, watching the Indian team bowl out the opposition with the help of thin, vegetarian fast bowlers. The openers would set up a decent start, you go to have lunch. By the time you return, the entire team is bowled out for 150. Captains would strangely get injured before crucial matches. Experienced batsmen would suddenly play idiotic shots, and before you knew, it was all over. I wish the film gives me insights into why he did it (if it says that he did, that is). He wasn’t wanting of money, for sure. He had fame, records, and was the shining star of secular India’s growing clout in the world. Then why?
5. His growing years, and roaring debut
While most fans today will remember him for his later, unfortunate years, Azharuddin broke into the scene like a trailblazer. He was selected to replace Kapil Dev, and a thin, tall 20 year old walked out to bat in Eden Gardens. He scored a century in that match, and in his next, and then the one after that. But I want to know of his growing-up years. Of studying in Nizam College, and working as a clerk in SBI. Of a time when he would walk into the stadium and ask the most budding cricketer to pick up anything from his kit.
I want to see the Azzu bhai whom I idolized. Not a plastic, glossy Bollywood character. But one can only hope. With Ekta Kapoor at the helm, for all you know, it will be a film with sensationalism, sleaze, and gossip. And Tushar Kapoor playing Sachin Tendulkar.