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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Leander’s train wreck

Dear Lee,

The news must have reached you by now. The news that you knew but didn’t want to believe. That Rajdhani Express is a train wreck.

Every tennis match that I have ever watched of yours, I never left the game till the last point was won or lost. Even if you were two sets and a break down, even if you were facing a couple of match points, even if you were limping on the court, I could never change the channel. On Friday morning, I left the plex theatre a couple of reels before your screen train reached Mumbai Central. I couldn’t watch it anymore.

You and I go back a long way. You the star and me the fan. From when you used to be just “a promising player” powering the volleys on the DKS courts of Deshapriya Park opposite the likes of Enrico Piperno and Nandan Bal. I hadn’t reached double figures but used to cheer you at 15, at 30, at 40, at every game you won. You had become my hero much before you became a national treasure.

On Friday, I had to look away every time your close-up came on. No, no you didn’t blink. But emoting is a little more than that. A little more than just making your eyes large and staring at the camera. Just streaming through some of your old Davis Cup victory tapes might have helped. Remember those tears of joy when you made all of us proud? Static glycerine droplets can’t really do the trick.

I know your voice. That wasn’t you. They got your lines dubbed by someone. I am told they couldn’t match your accent to the aam aadmi character you were playing. And I couldn’t match you to a single moment in the movie.

Is this the much-awaited careerbending launch for The Leander Paes? Why would you trust an Ashok Kohli to kickstart your Bollywood career? Opposite Sayali Bhagat? What were you thinking? Maybe no one else entertained your crazy idea. Maybe the bigwigs saw early enough that the movie set was not exactly your tennis court. Maybe your own backers could foresee the derailment the way they kept delaying the train’s departure. No matter how many times you rolled up those sleeves and adjusted the watch, it was always going to be one giant footfault.

Well, Rajdhani Express will have to leave theatres before it finishes the first week. And that would be a blessing. The lesser the number of us watch you in this state, the better it is. For you and for us. If you can, ensure that the film isn’t shown on TV or be made available on home video. Smash every can, every copy you can lay your hands on.

You told t2 last week that this is just the start and you have a full-fledged acting career in mind. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t do this to us. We want to remember your over-the-head falling-back smashes. We want to remember you just the way you were.

Your fan,
Pratim D. Gupta

Rajdhani express (u/a)
Director: Ashok Kohli
Cast: Leander Paes, Jimmy Shergill, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Gulshan Grover, Puja, Sayali Bhagat
Running time: 126 minutes