By Snehal Pradhan
Back in 2012, I first met the man who would eventually become my husband. After a month or so of chatting on the phone and Skype, I flew over to Indore meet him. My family had already arrived there that morning. It was a typical arranged marriage setting,except for one thing: I was carrying my cricket kit bag along. I had arrived directly after leading the Board President’s XI in a tour match against the visiting Australian women’s cricket team. Even though we lost the match, I was given the warmest welcome at the airport. My prospective in-laws were quite proud of the fact that their could-be daughter-in-law was an international cricketer.
Star Plus’s new show Tamanna took off on Monday with a similar story, but some fundamental differences: there was the typical arranged marriage setting, but with a kit bag being packed away. A match was in progress, but the key player was missing. A conservative grandmother threatened the girl to not mention cricket. A doting, supportive father melted and fulfilled his daughter’s request. A young girl was about to be introduced to her prospective in-laws, but with her cricketing skills being hushed up, not celebrated.
Tamanna has some familiar faces, but an unfamiliar storyline. We have seen plenty of cricket on both the small and big screen, and some hockey as well. But for the first time, here’s a show about cricket, with a female protagonist. The show – being promoted by the hashtag #HerDreamsDontDie – tells the story of Dharaa Solanki, a talented young cricketer from an orthodox family in Jamnagar.
When I heard about the show, I was thrilled that women’s cricket was chosen as the vehicle to send across a social message. It shows that the women’s game is making bigger ripples in our consciousness. Perhaps the producers hope that the recent series win by the Indian women’s cricket team in Australia will boost interest in the show. And I, in turn, will be hoping that the presence of a female cricketer on the small screen will send the message that women can and do play cricket, a fact that is still lost on far too many people in our country.
The show starts with Dharaa (played by Anuja Sathe) being given clear instructions by her grandmother that cricket is not to be mentioned in front of her prospective in-laws, or their son Mihir. Instead, she is taught a special Jamnagar recipe! But when Dharaa hears that a selector (played by Harsh Chhaya) has come all the way from Pune just to see her bat, she is caught between two worlds. On one hand, she had agreed to skip that game so that this meeting could take place. On the other, it might be her only chance to break into the state team. Having agreed to not play cricket after marriage, her dream of calling herself a state player is in jeopardy. Finally, she tries having her cake and eating it too, by sneaking out for the match as soon as her meeting with Mihir concludes. Her sympathetic father covers up for her as she gets to the ground in time to strap on the leg guards and walk out to bat. It reminded me of my own struggles to balance cricket with different aspects of my life, particularly college.
Dharaa’s story is likely to take a different path however, judging by the promos. My guess is, she will be pressured to fit into the Indian stereotype of the ideal bahu, who must sacrifice her dreams at the sacrosanct altar of marriage and children. Luckily, the breadcrumbs left to us by the show’s trailer point to a second coming, after childbirth.
While Anuja Sathe’s portrayal of Dharaa in the first two episodes is heartfelt, her obvious awkwardness with the bat made me cringe (producer Ajinkya Deo actually said that this was a major challenge while casting). Another point that rankled was that a show trying to break stereotypes is sponsored by a fairness cream.
Some of the scenes in the first episode are far-fetched (such as batting in a match after the playing XI has already been decided, and walking out to bat in slippers). But Tamanna looks to address a tricky issue that exists quietly, but undeniably, like a green snake in the grass: Should a woman’s dreams have an expiry date? Or can she pursue them at any point in life? Can a woman have a second innings?
In an interview on YouTube, director Abhinay Deo (who also directed 24, and Delhi Belly) said, “I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to live their second innings. There are very few blessed people who have managed it. But is it impossible? No.”
There are instances of women who have hit such questions for a six, even in a career like cricket, which is bound by the same chains that bind the human body. For women in careers heavily dependent on physical fitness, childbirth understandably necessitates a break. But it need not be the end. Last month, I profiled Delhi cricketer Neha Tanwar. Having represented India, Neha quit cricket in 2014 to start a family, only to return six months after the birth of her son. She just might set a trend in women’s cricket; one that already exists in some other sports. Remember Mary Kom?
All walks of life throw up examples such as these. And some of them even existed two generations ago. My own grandmother completed her MSc only after her marriage. She submitted her thesis while eight months pregnant with my father, and gave her vivas when he was just a month old. It should be no surprise then that my grandmother was the one who gave me my first push into cricket, and has been my biggest support in my own career. Now, my mother-in-law has been a huge pillar of support for me, encouraging me to pursue my interests even after my retirement from competitive cricket.
While more such examples can be found, there are countless more young girls for whom this is not the case, particularly (but not exclusively) in rural India. After marriage, they are discouraged, and often forcibly stopped from doing something that doesn’t fit into the scheme of things at the sasuraal. The young married girls of these families may never reach the cricket grounds, the offices or the schools that they visit in their daydreams. This may be the reason I have never met a girl in cricket who does not have family backing.
With the wide penetration that soaps have, I hope that Tamanna will send a message that will make some cracks in more pernicious traditional mindsets. I hope it will nudge a few girls towards less monochromatic futures. I, for one, will eagerly be following the direction of the story.
Snehal Pradhan fulfilled her childhood dream of sharing the new ball for India – with her idol Jhulan Goswami, no less – between 2008 and 2011. She led the Maharashtra attack for almost a decade, and now writes about the game from the sidelines. She tweets @SnehalPradhan.