Million Dollar Arm Special: Interview With Mark Ciardi & Madhur MittalCricket is the national sport of India, but what happens when you take two boys from the slums and bring them to America to teach them baseball? They become huge stars of course. That’s the story that Million Dollar Arm, a new Disney film that releases today, relates to in a captivating and inspirational story. Based on real life events, the film has already received rave reviews from celebrities and critics alike, and is set to capture the hearts and minds of the public with its release today. Starring John Hamm (of Mad Men fame), Suraj Sharma (who is best known for his work in Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire), the film has global appeal. Million Dollar Arm focuses on JB Bernstein, a failing baseball agent with something to prove, and his mission to find America’s next big baseball stars. Bernstein’s trip to India, during which he recruits the wide-eyed Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh, becomes a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment, while Rinku and Dinesh are given the chance to relish a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I caught up with the film’s producer Mark Ciardi and Million Dollar Arm star, Madhur Mittal, who plays Dinesh, who told us what it was like to create the movie.
Mark Ciardi InterviewBea: Nice to meet you both and welcome to London! Firstly, Mark, what attracted you to the Million Dollar Arm script? Mark: Well, I knew JB Bernstein (who the film is based on) personally, before I got in to the film business. So, I ran into JB at an event in 2007 and he told me that he was heading over to India to do a reality TV show to find a pitcher. I thought this was kind of a crazy idea and didn’t think much of it. But about a year and a half later, we got back in touch and he had succeeded in finding these two boys through this contest and had actually got them signed to professional contracts. So I thought that it could make a great movie and went on the road to set up the film with Disney - the rest is the resulting movie. Bea: As you said, he’s a close friend of yours… so is the real JB is happy with the outcome of the film? Mark: Yes, very happy! He’s thrilled with the movie and its impact on kids and you know, it’s just a great project and a lot of fun to be around. It’s a real audience-pleaser, so it’s been a fun ride.
[Mark] we have fun with the characters but I don’t think we ever made fun of themBea: How much was JB involved in the process of making the film? Mark: He helped production just by being available to ask him things. He was a big help particularly to screenwriter Tom McCarthy and our director Craig Gillespie and for anybody involved in production. He provided us with the real-life images shown at the end of the film too, so he was a great source for us and we couldn’t have done the film without his input. Bea: Some critics say that the film doesn’t portray India in the best light. How do you respond to these claims? Mark: Well, you know, I think people take issue with the fact that these kids [Rinku and Dinesh] aren’t exposed to a whole lot but in reality, that was actually the case. They came from pretty small villages and weren’t even exposed to things in big cities in India like Mumbai. So when they came to America they were dropped into Los Angeles. I was around these kids; they were very much a fish out of water. I just think it’s a sweet film and we have fun with the characters but I don’t think we ever made fun of them. I think they have a lot more wisdom than our main character (JB) even. You learn so much from these boys but as crazy as it is going to India for JB, I think the boys coming to America, particularly a big metropolis like LA, was also fraught with humour but I don’t think any of it was trying to make fun of anyone.
Madhur Mittal InterviewBea: So Madhur, what attracted you to the script? Madhur: When I first read the script, I was very surprised that I hadn’t heard about these two boys before. I was very shocked that nobody in my family or my friends had heard of them, but what they’ve achieved has not been done by anybody else in the history of mankind or in any other sport. I wanted to do the film because I think this is a story that needs to be told. Speaking from an Indian point of view, we’re starved of sporting heroes outside of cricket, so it’s very important that stories like these come out and people are inspired by them.
[Madhur] I think we could do pretty good in coming up as a ‘sporting superpower’Bea: As you said it’s based on a real life story, so did you spend a lot of time with the real Dinesh? Madhur: Not a lot but yes I had some time with him. Suraj Sharma (who plays Rinku Singh) and I had never played baseball in our lives before so we were training before the film for about a three and a half week period in Delhi. We had trainers come down from the states and three to four hours a day, we’d be training. At that point, we had Dinesh as a third trainer. He would come in and help us do drills that the boys actually did and tell us all these stories which helped us understand what they were actually going through. Bea: So did you develop a love for baseball and will you carry on playing? Madhur: Haha! Well… I actually screwed up my right shoulder because we had three to four straight days of pitching scenes! I ended up tearing my rotator cuff so I actually can’t play…! I’ve been out of action for about a year now but no worries, the shoulder’s feeling better so I’ll probably get back to it soon…! Bea: Oh no! We hope you feel better soon! Finally, do you think baseball will overtake cricket in India? Hahaha! That’s going to take some doing! You never know though! I love cricket, it’s a great sport but I hope so, purely because I think India is too concentrated on one sport that it’s not really very good, it’s not a healthy environment for other sports. So I think there are so many other sports – not just baseball – that can be appreciated. We have a population of a billion people and you know, and I’m pretty sure that if you promote and give an infrastructure to other sports, I think we could do pretty good in coming up as a ‘sporting superpower,’ if you like.
Million Dollar Arm releases nationwide on Friday 29th August 2014.