Lights, camera, action: A new role for Sunil Chhetri

The India captain is set to make a surprise appearance in the final episode of a 10-part web series.

New territory: Sunil Chhetri interacts with kids from Oscar Foundation at Stanislaus turf, as part of the 'Bombers' launch. Photo: Special Arrangement

Sunil Chhetri feels a football movie on I. M. Vijayan or Bhaichung Bhutia will be fascinating to watch.

“I would love a movie on either of them. I looked up to them and know them better than others. These two stars are my personal favourites,” said the ace India goalscorer, speaking on the sidelines of the launch of ‘Bombers’.

‘Bombers’ is a 10-part web series based on football’s role in the lives of a diverse group of people.

The final episode will see Chhetri making a surprise appearance. “We have not shot it yet. I also wish the whole crew my best wishes. I have seen bits of it, they worked hard. It is not everyday that a movie is made on football, about a small club with a lot of people slogging not only on their game, but also to put their lives on track. I just hope people enjoy it,” he said. Zee5 (website and app) will stream the series this month.

The India captain explained that the choice of a Vijayan or Bhutia means no disrespect to other greats from the past. “Indian football had a lot of superstars before Vijayan or Bhutia; it is just that I don’t have so much knowledge about them, compared to these two. It is like talking about Pele or Lionel Messi. I have seen Messi more, so would like to know more about the player and the person. I hope other legends get a movie made on their game and their life,” he said.

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The film Goal! is a personal favourite. Chhetri remarked, “The film stands out in my mind, it is about Santiago Munez (a youngster offered a trial with England club Newcastle United).”

Struggles

Chhetri has himself gone through his share of struggles to get a foothold in international football, having made attempts to play in Portugal, the U.S. and England. Queens Park Rangers signed him, but he did not manage to get a work permit from the U.K. government.

Overcoming adversity is a recurrent theme in football movies, Chhetri observes. “I watch documentaries on famous footballers apart from that. Sports movies are always inspiring. They tell stories of how you overcome adversity. Some day you win, some day you lose. A hero today, the next day you are a villain, a lot of factors you need to mange in any sport, especially in my sport,” he said.

Chhetri, 34 now and a role model for the nation’s aspiring footballers, has won almost everything on offer in Indian football, having represented clubs in Kolkata, Punjab, Goa and Mumbai. When opportunities came up at the Asian level with current club Bengaluru FC, the Delhi-born player from Gorkha Training Centre (2001) stepped up to the next level. A doer in the goalmouth and a leader off the pitch, he has earned the respect of Indian and foreign coaches.

The Indian football team is enjoying training and learning under new head coach Igor Stimac (in picture), says Chhetri. Photo: Twitter (@IndianFootball)

 

Igor Stimac, a Croatian World Cupper, is the latest chief coach under whom the learning continues. “The experience is really positive. The first 10 days was really good under our new head coach. He is an experienced coach, the boys are enjoying it.”

Both coach and striker returned with the players from the King’s Cup in Bangkok; India had gained the third place, fielding a new-look squad. Chhetri points out: “It is not easy, going from off-season to getting match fit, playing a tournament, beating Thailand in Thailand. I hope people understand the value of this result (1-0). Thailand were playing at home, fielding a full team and we won.”

Crowd puller

Have any movie offers come Chhetri’s way? A few inquiries have happened, reveals Chhetri, but no further developments.

Chhetri is a crowd-puller whose emotional video-appeal to India fans — for support during the Intercontinental Cup in Mumbai — became a talking point everywhere. But he remained neutral when asked if a film on his life would have the drama to make viewers sit up. “I don’t know about drama, but is a normal footballer’s life, where you fight, work hard, fall and get up again. You fall again and rise, it is a normal life,” he said.

There is never a shortage of drama when this chunky striker is in sight of a goal, scored with feet or head from instinct. He is also good at free-kicks and is chosen for keeping a cool head during penalty kicks. Post-goal celebrations are unique; Chhetri connects easily with fans who rise to their feet in appreciation.

Chhetri, a performer worthy of applause, is ready to step into new territory and make a special appearance in a new medium of entertainment.

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