Film: Caught Out
Director: Supriya Sobti-Gupta
It’s not mere coincidence that the biggest scandal in Indian (if not world) cricket history wasn’t, strictly speaking, broken by an all-access sports journalist.
Aniruddha Bahal was practically filling in for the sports reporter, when he uncovered ‘match-fixing’ going on in cricket — with a cover-story in Outlook, mid-1997.
Meaning, players were not just passing on crucial match-info to bookmakers, but also taking orders for how the match will play out!
Around this time, as we learn from Supriya Sobti-Gupta’s Netflix documentary, Caught Out, it was common to hear journalists converse with bookies from the press box.
This shared secrecy/complicity isn’t surprising. It’s the bane of beat reporting, where you eventually get so close to your sources/subjects — in turn, like the Icarus before the sun, they destroy your very (reason of) existence!
Bahal’s cover-story had cricketer Manoj Prabhakar for a whistle-blower. By then, Prabhakar’s career was over — dropped after 1996 World Cup. Surely, he had a bone to pick — which source doesn’t? But he didn’t name names, then.
He did that later, for Bahal’s documentary, made for the newly launched Tehelka magazine. This is where Prabhakar accused Kapil Dev of offering him money to drop a match. Over six weeks, Prabhakar stung colleagues/friends, who revealed even more, supposedly ‘off the record’.
This doc, Fallen Heroes (produced by Minty Tejpal) — shot with spy cams, at an unprecedented scale then — is the film within Caught Out. Bahal has nearly pioneered this sort of brave, undercover reporting since — including blowing the political cover of legacy news-media itself!
Caught Out is Sobti-Gupta’s directorial debut. Although she is herself, in many ways, a recent first-mover to this ‘Netflix genre’ of entertaining docs, if you may — relooking at well-reported events, going deeper into its coverage, and given the distance of time, coming out with a perspective that daily journalism, for its deadlines, is incapable of. Think of it as the second draft of history!
That’s what she helped script, working on Mumbai Mafia (MM, 2023), which takes a vulture’s eye view of the ’90s Bombay underworld. As with Bad Boy Billionaires (BB, 2020), on big-ticket financial scams — although her segment in the anthology, on Satyam’s Ramalinga Raju, is still stuck in court.
Of course, such a smartly packaged narrative, shot and dramatised with pizzazz — for a new audience across almost 200 countries — bears the possibility of libel/litigation.
Only because an old wound is being scratched. There is practically no fresh piece of evidence/reporting, to be sure. This isn’t quite like, say, the exploratory/revelatory, Bryan Fogel’s Icarus (2017), on doping in cycling.
But it’s enough for a giant like Netflix to take it easy, play it safe — keep the film almost under wraps, for its members to automatically discover the content on their app. Algorithm is the sole advertising.
So with Caught Out, or BBB, and MM. As it is, one guesses, bigger audiences are possibly with more floozy reality entertainment, such as Sima Aunty’s Indian Matchmaking, or even The Romantics (Yashraj Films’ hagiography), for that matter.
Speaking of which, “making a match”, or match-making is precisely what the accused Mohammad Azharuddin (India captain, 1990-99) allegedly told the CBI about exactly what was happening, upon bookies’ instructions!
Azhar got banned from cricket, subsequent to the said confession. He fought against that judgement in court; even got exonerated. He made a crappy cricket film called Azhar (2016) for celebration!
Either way, match-fixing, as it turns out, isn’t a crime, that’ll send you to prison. Why sports-betting is idiotically a criminal offense in India deserves a more thorough legislative debate. It’s something Sobti-Gupta’s film could’ve touched upon. For sub-text, the film reveals two facts so essential, that you’re almost certain nothing’s gonna change.
One, that “love for money”, or money itself, is “addictive”. Two, “the gambler never wins; the bookie never loses”! Public re-shaming, like Caught Out, I guess, is important deterrence — to prevent corrupt practices, such as match/spot-fixing in sport, like insider- and horse-trading in business, and politics. Public memory’s short.
Sobti-Gupta does an even fairer job of bringing fine journalists to the fore, with her doc. They’re likely to be the best sniffer dogs in such cases. Most of them remain so simultaneously underpaid, and unsung, that the incentives seldom match the potential risk.
Felt the same with Alex Perry in MM — did not know it was his profile of cop Pradeep Sharma in Time magazine, that led the Indian government to rethink the issue of ‘encounter cops’ as a laudable force.
Likewise, Bahal is the hero of Caught Out. My (mid-day) colleague Clayton Murzello is specially thanked in the closing credits. Personally, I’ve followed the match-fixing scandal in Indian cricket chiefly through its strongest chronicler, sports journalist Pradeep Magazine.
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He was among the first to broach the subject in print/public. His book, Not Just Cricket, reveals obvious “toss-fixing” by Pakistani cricketer Asif Iqbal in the 1979-80 Indo-Pak Test. That’s how old the rot is. Magazine should’ve been profiled in Caught Out.
Also, looking at cricket since the 2000 Hansie Cronje, Azhar, Ajay Sharma exposé — for God’s sake, we’ve had IPL, with capitalist-opportunists owning cricket teams, with no stake in the game. The hearsay on this world is horrible!
Sobti-Gupta ought to have looked there. That’s the obvious sequel. How wide can you cover in an hour-plus doc, anyway! Well delivered, though.