No conversation excites Daggubati Suresh Babu as much as a conversation about sport. Any sport. But when it comes to cricket, it is a combination of nostalgia, deep knowledge about the game and a cabinet full of anecdotes.
As part of Filter Kaapi Live‘s series of conversations with non-cricketers with a cricketing past this World Cup season, T S Sudhir spoke to film producer D Suresh Babu on his growing up days as a young cricketer in Chennai (then Madras), how he makes it a point to travel around the world to watch cricket matches and his memories of the 1983 and 2011 World Cup finals.
Sudhir : You and cricket go back a long way, right back to school days in Madras.
Suresh : Oh yes. I used to play for our Don Bosco school team and later for the Guindy Engineering college team. But while I played well, the team always lost (laughs). Venky (Suresh’s younger brother and Telugu film superstar Venkatesh) was a champion cricketer. He captained both the Junior and Senior Don Bosco school teams and won the school championships. Later he was to play exceptionally at Loyola College as well.
Sudhir : Both of you were all-rounders, weren’t you?
Suresh : I was a right arm medium pacer but I used to bat left. Same With Venky. I don’t know why it has been like that. In fact, even when I play golf now, I am a lefty.
Sudhir : And Krishnamachari Srikanth was your senior in college.
Suresh : Yes, a year senior. Chikka was a natural, raw talent. While in school, I was in Don Bosco while he was at Vidyamandir. In college, we were part of the same team. He was as good in cricket as he would be at say, running a 400 metre race. He would win that as well.
Sudhir : So cricket was a very integral part of your life in school and college.
Suresh : Yes. Those days, your name would figure in `The Hindu’ newspaper the next morning edition only if you scored 25 runs or more or took at least three wickets. That is what motivated most of us. Sometimes it did not matter if the team was losing so long as you hit 25 runs (laughs).
Sudhir : Chennai is both a cricket-crazy and a cricket-knowledgeable city. The passion for the sport is much more than in any other city, with perhaps the exception of Mumbai.
Suresh : Yes, the knowledge of the average Chennai guy about cricket is definitely more. We used to follow the game closely so that during conversations, we could also contribute and sound intelligent.
Sudhir : And going to Chepauk to watch matches was part of the regimen.
Suresh : Yes. The first Test match I saw was at Chepauk between India and West Indies. I have watched every match there, even Ranji matches, all five days. My dad (the late D Rama Naidu) was not interested but I would look at every delivery through my binoculors and practise the shot later. When we shifted to Hyderabad, I would travel to Madras everytime there would be a Test match played there.
Sudhir : Wow, that is some passion. And you continue the passion for all India matches and the IPL now.
Suresh : I have watched matches in three World Cups, traveled to South Africa in 2003 and the Caribbean in 2007. The year 2011 was my high. That night when India won the World cup, I danced on the streets of Mumbai. We were staying in the same hotel as the Indian team and I remember Dhoni suddenly disappearing into his room around 3 am and coming out after a while, having shaven off his head.
Sudhir : This would be a contrast to the 1983 Prudential World Cup, the last time India won, when our generation watched it on TV.
Suresh : Yes, that final Venky and I saw in Chennai along with friends. During the Windies innings, it happened a couple of times that when Venky stepped out of the room, a batsman got out. All of us then made sure Venky stayed out of the room after that. Venky did not get to see that India-West Indies final (laughs).
Sudhir : Movies, spirituality and sports essentially define you. That would be an apt description you think?
Suresh : Yes. I discuss movies and sports while spirituality I like to practise. And it is not just cricket, I follow all sport. Like it is the French Open now. I watch every NBA match. I have several live streaming apps on my phone that I keep checking on before I leave for work in the morning.
Sudhir : And IPL is a regular fixture for you and Venky every year. Will you be travelling to England for the World Cup?
Suresh : Yes. Because of the shooting schedule of `Venky Mama’ with Venky in Kashmir, I have not been able to. But I will definitely be there for the India-Pakistan match on 16 June. And irrespective of who is in the finals, I will watch the game.
Sudhir : With so much interest in the game, was there any moment where despite belonging to a film family, you thought of pursuing cricket as a career?
Suresh : No, never thought of it. But I was very keen on getting my kids into sports. I used to tell my wife that we will have Rana (Rana Daggubati, actor), who was well-built into sports. When he was in class 7, we admitted him into archery at the Lal Bahadur stadium in Hyderabad but he was not hitting it right. When we practised cricket, he was not able to catch the ball. That is when we discovered that he had an eye problem and got it cured with surgery. That’s when you realise that there is more to life than what you plan for. We cannot dictate terms, it is not in our hands.
Sudhir : So cricket had a positive role to play in a slightly different way there with Rana. When IPL started a decade ago, I remember producers wouldn’t release their movies during that period because the collections were getting affected. That has changed now to an extent but is the World Cup 2019 impacting the movie business.
Suresh : No, everyone has got segmented. Movies are just one of the many modes of entertainment now. The Eid holidays are a bigger opportunity for us. In fact, even in the week that the IPL finals were played, the movie collections were good.
Sudhir : You follow the game closely, what do you think are our realistic chances at the World Cup?
Suresh : Our bowling is very good but our batting is still suspect. On flat wickets, we are good but against the rising delivery, a bit dodgy. Even in the match against South Africa, though Rohit hit a century, he was not in his elements. But we hope and pray India wins.
Sudhir : Cricket has figured in your movies as well.
Suresh : `Golconda High School’ starring Sumanth had cricket as its theme. Then `Vasantham’ in 2003 starred Venky as a budding cricketer and we had VVS Laxman playing himself in a guest appearance.
Sudhir : Yes, I remember that movie. I think Krishnamachari Srikanth played the cameo in the Tamil remake of the same movie (Priyamaana Thozhi) with Madhavan.
Suresh : Yes.
Sudhir : I must say Suresh that in the last twenty four years that we have known each other and discussed movies, politics, Sabarimala several times, this has been the most entertaining chat ever. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your cricket stories.
Suresh : (laughs)