By Hindustan Times
Standby Director: Sanjay Surkar
Actors: Adinath Kothare, Siddharth Kher
“You were a footballer. How could you embezzle Rs 20 lakh from a bank?” asks the TV reporter. Seriously. How? The fellow being questioned is rightly flummoxed. So should the viewer.
Footballers, especially former footballers (as in this case), you see, cannot be associated with frauds. Swami Vivekanand rightly put it, “You will be nearer to heaven playing football than studying the *Bhagavad-Gita.”* The old man before us has been wrongly accused. You know.
Here’s why. His son is the designated captain of the Indian football team. That boy must choose not to play, so that the player on “standby” gets a chance to be part of the team. This captain refuses to budge. He’s beaten up. His father is driven to suicide. And I survive to inform you: This is truly the plot of this film.
Now a bit on the said “Standby” this picture is named after. He's in fact the captain's best friend. As one of his female fans puts it, he is "dashing, haendsome, and reech.” Very rich. His dad, the villain, bankrolls Indian football, sacks TV commentators who criticise him, is presently negotiating with the “European League” to get him on board. Daddy can of course find his son a place in the Indian team. Everything’s on sale. Politicians swim in his pocket. They own football too. The movie explains this best when it breaks into occasional bouts of magic realism. Tribal men dance around a chessboard. A ball rises up in the air.
Okay. Don't squint your eyes, think too hard. The conflict is much simpler. The Indian team’s coach is the problem. He won’t allow the rich “standby” to take over from the “captain” and get into the team. He wants to take Indian football ahead of cricket. But politicians don’t care. He looks at the federation chief, a neta, and reasons why: “Because cricket is a gentlemen's game. Football is a man's game. You've to be a man to understand this.” True.
He further reveals the tragedy of Indian football, why this country is apparently ranked 147 by FIFA. Best Indian players are made to stay at home, he tells us. Because “armchair selectors”, or politicians, decide who must play. This is a mess. There’s a Messi in Mangalore, and we don’t even know it. I want to sit in on a dharna over this issue. Oh, and yeah. You try sitting through this movie. Priceless.