Actor Kunal Nayyar grew up in New Delhi where he used to play cricket during his school days © Getty Images
Actor Kunal Nayyar grew up in New Delhi where he used to play cricket during his school days © Getty Images

Kunal Nayyar, the star of the famous sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ teamed up with Sushrut Jain in the making of the cricket-based film Beyond All Boundaries. The film documents the journeys of Sudhir Kumar, the super-fan, the prodigy Prithvi Shaw, and the aspiring female cricketer Akshaya Surve. Nishad Pai Vaidya spoke to Nayyar about the movie and the journey so far.

In 2011, Sushrut Jain and his team travelled to India to capture the frenzy for the ICC World Cup 2011. As MS Dhoni’s men set-off on a journey to fulfill the dreams of a nation, Jain wanted to portray the picture from the viewpoint of a normal Indian. In his quest, he came across three individuals who formed the heart and soul of his dream project — stories that promised to touch the masses with their undying human spirit. Sudhir Kumar, the Indian team’s familiar mascot, the precociously talented batsman Prithvi Shaw, and a female cricketer named Akshaya Surve brought life to Jain’s film titled Beyond All Boundaries.

While Jain’s project was novel and brought in a different side, he had a tough time in getting it all together. The shooting was done in 2011, but the production and release has taken over three years. In Kunal Nayyar — the Hollywood actor of Indian origin who is popular for his role as Rajesh Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory — Jain found an ally. The cricket fan in Nayyar was instantly attracted to this project. “I’m a hardcore Delhiite and I, my family, all my friends were huge cricket fans. I even played for school growing up, but was never really good enough to compete at a high level. To be successful in cricket you have to dedicate your life to it,” he says.

Nayyar is still old-school in terms of cricket and loves the classical format. Living in a country where cricket isn’t a very popular sport, Nayyar finds it tough to keep a track of the Indian team. “It is tough living in Los Angeles without my daily fix. I have willow cricket on my TV and laptop so I catch most of the big games, but I really missed the boat on IPL [Indian Premier League]. That started after I left India so I feel a slight disconnect with it. I am still a huge fan of old-school Test cricket and one-days.  My favorite players have to be Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Yuvraj Singh, and MS Dhoni.  These days it’s hard not to be a fan of Virat Kohli who seems to be the future of Indian cricket,” he says.

Sudhir Kumar (right) is famous for being Sachin Tendulkar's biggest fan © Getty Images
Sudhir Kumar (right) is famous for being Sachin Tendulkar’s biggest fan © Getty Images

But, with the Beyond all Boundaries project, Nayyar got a chance to rekindle his love for cricket in a much bigger way. Reflecting on his first meeting with Jain, Nayyar says, “When the director of Beyond All Boundaries, Sushrut Jain, approached me to do the narration for the film, I watched a lot of the footage he had obtained shooting the film and saw what he was doing with it.  I was blown away.  Being a huge cricket fan myself and having followed Team India’s every move during the 2011 World Cup to see a film like this being made that captured both the intensity of the fan stories and the World Cup cricketers was awesome. I simply had to get involved. I told him not only would I narrate the film, but I’d help him raise the funds needed to finish it.  He had picked great stories and was doing a very good job telling them and I only wanted to help him be able to do that.  We had a lot of fun on this film.”

Nayyar’s views on the three protagonists

Sudhir Kumar: “Sudhir Kumar, the superfan who has worshipped Sachin Tendulkar and gone to cricket matches for ten years on bicycle all over the country was a natural choice. His passion for cricket is so deep — he has managed to do all this without any money — that in a country of great cricket fans, he stood out.  His love for the sport is so pure that he is impossible not to like as a human being and that shines through in the film.”

Prithvi Shaw was 12 when the documentary was made © IANS
Prithvi Shaw was 12 when the documentary was made © IANS

Prithvi Shaw: “Prithvi Shaw, the young Mumbai cricketing prodigy was a great choice as well because his story is one of incredible talent fighting against great odds.  Despite coming from an economically difficult background, he now finds himself at the age of 15 (when the film was made he was 12) at the pinnacle of Mumbai school cricket.   It’s an amazing story.”

Akshaya Surve: “I don’t think the director started out looking for a girl cricketer but when he ran into Akshaya and a few girls playing cricket in whites at Shivaji Park, he was intrigued.  Akshaya’s story was so powerful and her love for the game and seriousness about it so compelling that it made perfect sense to follow her. Her story is also a great example in India today — of a girl who is not afraid of anyone or any challenge.”

The journey so far and the impending release

Nayyar’s efforts helped Jain raise funds for the project and on October 10, Beyond all Boundaries is set to hit the screens in India. Nayyar believes that this film will also appeal to those who aren’t cricket fans. The stories of the three protagonists are touching and inspiring. “Well, I did a video campaign on Kickstarter where I helped Sushrut raise the funds from fans of The Big Bang Theory in small donations.  I think at least half the funds we raised came from Americans who didn’t know cricket.  But when they saw the trailer of the film and they saw how amazing the characters of the movie were — Sudhir Kumar, the fan who cycles thousands of kilometres just to follow his idol, Sachin Tendulkar to games, Akshaya Surve, the spunky athlete who wants to make a name as a girl cricketer, Prithvi Shaw, the relentlessly hardworking cricket prodigy, it didn’t matter if you were Indian, American, a cricket fan or not, you just knew the movie was going to be awesome.”

Picture courtesy
Picture courtesy: Sushrut Jain

There is that inherent theme of human spirit in this film. Sudhir’s devotion takes him miles around the country on his cycle. Though Tendulkar has retired, he is still seen at the India games. Prithvi was 12 when this movie was shot and three years down the line, he is already spoken of as the next big thing in Mumbai. Not only has he played abroad and signed lucrative sponsorship deals, he has also scored 546 in a school match in Mumbai. Nayyar says, “It’s clearly a movie about much more than cricket.  Otherwise it wouldn’t have all the Jury and Audience Best Documentary Awards at American film festivals that it did.  It’s a film about how a sport — in this case cricket — can have such a power to inspire and lift up people who are otherwise living in very difficult circumstances. The director, Sushrut Jain, searched for people whose stories were both powerful and inspiring.”

The film will hit cinemas in India on October 10. It would be a relatively quiet release and there won’t be any big budget bandwagon around promotion. But, this film brings together India’s passion for cricket and the triumph of human spirit. It is a language that transcends the mere human realms and appeals to the soul within. Back in the United States of America, Nayyar has found support in his colleagues in Hollywood. As the film is on the cusp of release, he is positive the audiences will love it, “We’ve made a film that we love and are proud of and we know Indian audiences will love it too. As for the commercial prospects, I’m not going to make predictions.  I can only hope that the word of mouth will spread — we have a beautiful film that was made with a lot of love and everywhere it has played, people, especially Indians, have loved it.  So we put it out there and hope that audiences enjoy it and spread the word.  We don’t have a powerhouse distributor behind us or a huge marketing budget but what we do have is quality.”

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)