CRICKET IS JUST NOT MY CUP OF TEA: on WONDROUS OBLIVION (2003)

Just last week while reading about another one of the many accolades for DELROY LINDO circa his turn in DA 5 BLOODS(2020), my mind almost immediately went back to the time, almost a decade back, when I had seen him in a little gem titled WONDROUS OBLIVION. I know, the title itself is an unusually beautiful one and I have somehow always identified Lindo with his starring role in this British production.

To be honest, thanks to the diversity of cinema on display in several Indian channels broadcasting unconventional works as this, i.e. a cut above the usual blockbuster or front-running dramatic/comedic fare, I received the opportunity to broaden my horizon when I was barely in the thick of my own teenage years. WONDROUS OBLIVION was also discovered by me by chance as I happened to settle for the channel on which it was playing. Sadly, that pattern has undergone a change over the years and mostly mainstream works only make the cut, if they are not cut to length by the transparency of the highly annointed streaming networks. Eras have a way of reconfiguring trends but the first cinematic experience on the big or small screen, in the two most traditional forms, tend to stay with us as mementos. The same applies in this case. That is the foreground for this cinephile.

https://images.app.goo.gl/oDW6xCJcCWhBU95q8

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Actually WONDROUS OBLIVION stays with me even now because of the profound source of social anxiety that I, myself, have faced, growing up in a nation as obsessed with the game of cricket as mine.

My father, Mr. ABHIJEET SINHA, is many things and that includes a gifted writer, storehouse of knowledge and lover of wildlife but first and foremost he is a champion cricketer of fine mettle who conquered the complexities of the sport in the prime of his youth, made an everlasting name for himself within his state and eventually the nation by transferring his expertise to generations of other like-minded cricketers. He instituted an eponymous cricket academy in our hometown Lucknow way back in 1996 that holds the distinction of being the first ever privately run, professional teaching unit in our home state of Uttar Pradesh. In 2021, it has reached a landmark by entering its silver jubilee year.

So naturally one would assume that I am a born talent in the field and you wouldn’t be wrong to state the obvious. But every individual is born with his/her own share of future reckoning. My father made cricket his lifeforce, my grandfather made the very best of engineering duties in the prestigious GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA(G.S.I.) while my great grandfather was a reputed professor of English whose influence managed to vow the colonial administration and his contemporary compatriots equally. Now, I add this bit of information or family history not to present a picture of achievements or plain generational lineage. My only objective here is to show how diverse that journey of accomplishments, ambitions and interests is within one family which happens to be my own.

So it was generally a prerequisite that we were always allowed to march to our own beat and my parents, both of them equally, knew that my vocation in writing was my ultimate calling in life. However, wagging tongues and conventional strictures didn’t allow the world to see it in that same flexible mould. For them, a child had to naturally inherit certain traits. While it didn’t toe the line of doctors and engineers in this case( thank God for it!), everybody was pretty amazed that I never had even an inkling or passing interest for CRICKET, that divine entity whose charms seemingly Indians and few other countries just cannot resist. That is a fact.

But that is who I am. Cricket just wasn’t my cup of tea and I blame the genes. Nobody except my father has ever excelled in it or in sports in general and most of us only share an enthusiasm for it endemic to our culture. On a deeper level, it was and remains a matter of individuality. You are either inclined towards a particular line of work, sports or vocation or you aren’t. Writing is my life force and now that I have inroads as a published writer, the future has looked up for me by dint of my own efforts. If you ask me personally then I don’t even have basic knowledge of cricket’s intricacies and really don’t enthuse myself by participating in water cooler conversations around it. Truthfully, I feel I will be insincere if I dabbled in a conversation without having adequate knowledge about the subject and will cheat other genuine enthusiasts of their own individual streaks. So basically, it boils down to what one is born with or gets to hone and master.

The unique symmetry of my life is that today I simultaneously write and publish my writings in versatile forms and forums while handling the administrative and written duties of the family run enterprise, that is the academy. Also even when the staunchest of fans go red with anger and employ harsh, judgemental words for cricketers after losses, I cut them loose for their one-sided love for the game that refuses to accept the idea of defeat in a competitive scenario. I may not be cricket’s biggest cheerleader per se hence but I know how to appreciate the toil and dedication of a game that consumes hours, days of its participants, given its expansive format. I also see it as a metaphor for life itself with all its attendant highs and lows. If I may say so many of its stances and postures, hits and actions can be strikingly balletic and spring from the most artistic realm, given mastery of its multifarious techniques.

‘Wondrous Oblivion’ hence is a term that, for me, defines the surprise in others occassioned by someone’s unconventional choices. Especially a departure from set interests or norms. It’s actually a pretty normal strand of growing up and the film hits those marks with ease for me in that respect.

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So coming back to the film, WONDROUS OBLIVION is about a school-going English boy who is particularly not good in playing cricket and is the butt of jokes and derision owing to it. One of the senior men present at a match where he again fails to succeed uses the two words that constitute the title. Even then as well as today, I saw that as a source of bemusement for him and by extension others given every English boy’s tailor-made love for cricket, including the sense of pride in it being their own creation. A kind of national honour. Of course, that has transcended to become a global phenomenon of unabated cultural value. My experiences with the academy over the years even before I lent my hand full time attest to that curve and evolution of cricket as shorthand for a billion dreams and more.

There are three other compelling strands in this film that stay with me. One being a West Indian family’s move to the neighbourhood inviting wagging tongues and xenophobic tempers from the residents, many of them middle aged, set in their ways and fossils of the empire’s socio-political hegemony. The other is the leading boy’s innocent love for his West Indian neighbour girl. The third is of the essence of love and companionship, of a more physical kind, kindling between the boy’s mother and the girl’s father. So at every turn, conventions are broken and complexity of life is split wide open. While many of these strands remain muted and simmering owing to the period setting, the girl’s father becomes an ally for the boy as he trains him to become a better cricketer. Through his trial and errors, active participation in the game, he transcends set conventions of his society, to grow up and come of age.

Oh, how fondly I remember its languid, appropriate pace, uncluttered visuals, such a change of pace and tone from tales with children at their center. How I longed to write about it anew ever since I lost an original writing in a notebook from those years ago.

WONDROUS OBLIVION is more than just about the arc of cricket becoming a metaphor for life for its young protagonist. For me, its realistic cultural attuning is relevant at any point in our lives. SAM SMITH, LEONIE ELLIOTT as the kids, DELROY LINDO and EMILY WOOF as the adults lend it grit and grace. It’s an unlikely, underrated pick but will be so much more once you watch it.

If I can write about it based on my memory alone, it is sure to mesmerise a whole new set of admirers who yearn for similar sensibilities as enshrined in this humane tale.

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