M.S. Dhoni, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Saina, Soorma, Mary Kom, Chakda Express (on Jhulan Goswami), and Shabaash Mithu (on Mithali Raj) are just a few examples of how Bollywood has made a genre out of films based on sports personalities who have made the country proud. The latest addition in the list of biopics is Kaun Pravin Tambe?, a movie based on cricketer Pravin Tambe who made his debut at 41 for Rajasthan Royals in 2013 in IPL. He is currently a part of Kolkata Knight Riders’ support staff. What makes his journey more interesting is that he hadn’t even played a single Ranji Trophy match before his debut (he made it to the Mumbai Ranji team after his IPL debut). Tambe has never played for the country, but he has played purely for the love of the game. His story is an inspiration to everyone who thought about giving up on their dreams due to age, family, and other external factors. The makers of the film roped in Shreyas Talpade to play Tambe. He has previously essayed the role of a cricketer in Iqbal.

We get the real-life and the reel-life Pravin Tambe together for a conversation and it’s one worth reading:

Pravin Tambe: Before you were offered this movie, how much did you know about me?

Shreyas Talpade: To be honest, when I saw you for the first time playing IPL in 2013, I asked my friends who you were. Usually, when anyone debuts in any game, they are probably in their late teens to early-mid 20s, but you looked a bit older. My friends told me your name, and that you made your debut at the age of 41. My next question was, ‘Does he know somebody from the Rajasthan Royals like the team owners, or is he related to anyone?’ My friend’s reply was, ‘No, he’s an excellent player. He didn’t get any opportunity all these years, and now he got a chance when Rahul Dravid selected him for the team’. I thought that if you were making your debut at 41, there must be some story behind it. When I got a call to play your role, I was given the lowdown on your journey that you first were a medium pacer, and then became a leg spinner. There were so many aspects of your life, from family to wife and kids to friends, that intrigued me. 

Tambe: I’m so happy that you took it up. After watching the trailer, people reached out to me, saying Shreyas is looking just like your younger brother. Bas uska thoda weight kum hai (he weighs slightly less than you).

Talpade: (laughs aloud) A few days back, someone told me that I had put on weight, and it’s showing. I told him that Tambe ji is a bit on the heavier side, so I was asked to put on weight. In fact, when I began training for the film, I had put on even more weight, but then I realised I would not be able to bowl, bat, or run like you with the extra weight. So, I lost some weight, and we reached a middle ground.

Tambe: What kind of training did you go through to play me in the film?

Talpade: Tambe ji, first you tell me, where do you get your energy from? After meeting you and being around you, I can definitely say that age is just a number. When I started my training for the film, it was 30 minutes a day, which sometimes stretched to two hours. But even after that, I used to feel that all my training was falling short. I had not played cricket since Iqbal, 17 years ago. There was a scene where I had to jump a wall and land on concrete, and I did that scene wearing my spikes, and when I landed on my feet, my knees felt such a strong jerk that I sat down then and there. I finished shooting that day using ice and pain relief spray, but my knees had swollen when I reached home. When we were shooting the climax, I remember I was bowling with my spikes on. We tried to replicate the match you had played. I ran behind to bowl, and I realised that my legs were not moving. I was trying to psyche myself up to run, so I asked for a break for some time. I played some music, and I thought about you and your life. I realised that you have been at it for 22 years, through and through. This film is going to be one of your moments of glory. So, if someone can struggle for 22 years, can’t I do it for 50 days? That is how I got my energy to shoot the remaining portions.

Talpade: Usually, sportsmen hang up their boots by the time they are in their mid to late 30s, while you just kept on playing. What was going on in your mind?

Tambe: Ek match khatam hone ke baad, next match kaun sa khelun? (Which match should I play next?) (laughs). When I used to play cricket, I wouldn’t remember anything, be it my family or my kids. My only intention was to play good cricket. I wasn’t even thinking about what game I was playing. There was no urge to gain anything. I just wanted to play the game.

Talpade: But there would have been moments of self-doubt, where one questions if they were right about what they were doing. Like with us actors, if we deliver 3-4 flops, we wouldn’t get any good roles. People would say that our careers are over.

Tambe: I never felt that. I knew what I wanted, and the only person who could help me was me. Many people used to ask me what is your future. The thing running through my mind was how do I balance my life? The only thing that can make me stop playing cricket would be my responsibility toward my family, or job. Many companies hire cricket-playing employees for their corporate leagues. I got a lot of support from my family.

Talpade: Do you remember how you felt when you made your debut?

Tambe: I was preparing for my first match from the first match of the season, but I wasn’t getting the opportunity to play in the 11. There were issues with the management over whether I should play or not. I knew that there was only one man I could have a word with and who could make things happen, and that was Rahul Dravid. I told him, ‘I’m not scared of anyone. Give me one opportunity; I will bowl my heart out.’ I remember I made my debut against the Delhi team. The wicket was very flat, which is terrible for a spinner. I bowled to legends like David Warner and Mahela Jayawardene. I gave only 31 runs on that flat wicket. I didn’t get a wicket, but we won the game. I got a chance again in the next match against Mumbai, and my first wicket was Dinesh Karthik. That wicket gave me confidence, and assured me that now, no one would be able to stop me.

Talpade: When you began your career, you were playing with the likes of young stars like Sanju Samson and legends like Rahul Dravid. How did everyone interact with you?

Tambe: As I have never played Ranji Cricket, playing with such huge teams and set-up was new for me. I entered the dressing room with confidence. The thing with team sports is that you are always considered a team member. My teammates never made me feel that I was new or old or that I was a local boy, or how was it possible for me to be a part of this team? It also shows what kind of atmosphere our captain Rahul Dravid had created. There is nothing like senior or junior in sports; everyone plays for the team. Everyone talked to me as if I was some senior player, but in reality, they were my seniors who had played much more than me.

Tambe: Earlier, you mentioned that you have been part of the industry for 17 years. In your career, a lot depends on the roles and opportunities one receives. Was there an opportunity you missed and regretted later?

Talpade: I was offered the role of Jolly LLB, and I never got back to the director. He made the film with Arshad. I loved the film, and when I reached out to the director to praise the film, he said we had come to you with the film first. I still don’t know how I could have said no to a film like that. At times you don’t know who is influencing you and how. When I was offered Pushpa, I was already in the middle of shooting for Pravin Tambe, and working on another show as well. I thought about missing out on good opportunities, and decided to give it a try. I told the makers that I would somehow manage and make time to do the film. I remember my wife telling me, ‘Are you mad? How will you do so much work?’ After dubbing the first day, she told me to not go the next day and to inform them that I won’t be able to make it. I convinced her that it was just the next 4-5 days. Because of Iqbal, I had instilled this never-say-die attitude in my mind. There was a phase in my career that was not very great. Films were not working. I was not getting the kind of roles I was looking for, and then suddenly, Pravin Tambe came my way. I told my director that I didn’t know the fate of the film, but I did know I could die a happy actor if I got to perform this role.

Talpade: You are 50.

Tambe: Haan, kya? (Yes, so?)

Talpade: (laughs) How do you not look your age?

Tambe: I only eat home cooked food. I don’t even have a trainer. I had one after I turned 40 to help me play. My secret is that I did what I loved the most, and that was playing cricket.

Talpade: What is that one message you want everyone to take from the film?

Pravin: If you want to do something, no one can stop you. Only you can stop yourself from achieving it. So, keep believing in yourself and your dreams because dreams do come true. When anyone asks who Pravin Tambe is, I hope at least one person will respond, ‘I am Pravin Tambe; if he can do it, so can I.’