Story Theater Movie of the Week for Aug. 29-31
Based on a true story, sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) finds that business has changed and things aren’t going well for his career. In a last-ditch effort to save his livelihood, he concocts a scheme to find baseball’s next great pitching ace. Hoping to find a young cricket pitcher he can turn into a Major League Baseball star, JB travels to India to produce a reality show competition called “The Million Dollar Arm.” With the help of cantankerous but eagle-eyed retired baseball scout Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), he discovers Dinesh (played by Madhur Mittal from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and Rinku (played by Suraj Sharma from “Life of Pi”), two 18-year-old boys who have no idea about playing baseball, yet have a knack for throwing a fastball. Hoping to sign them to major league contracts and make a quick buck, JB brings the boys home to America to train. While the Americans are definitely out of their element in India, the boys, who have never let their rural villages, are equally challenged when they come to the States. As the boys learn the finer points of baseball, JB, with the help of his charming friend Brenda (Lake Bell), learns valuable life lessons about teamwork, commitment and what it means to be a family.
In 2007, entrepreneurial sports agent JB Bernstein staged a reality show in India to find promising baseball talents amongst the cricket-loving popular on. Bernstein says, “The hope was to find the next Yao Ming, except for baseball. Statistically speaking, in a country of 1.2 billion people, the odds are good that you will find an undiscovered raw talent. The hope was to capture all those cricket fans and turn them towards baseball.”
Ultimately, Bernstein found his ball players in Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, and brought them home … literally. The boys became his de facto sons, living in his house as he taught them the intricacies of baseball, as well as the even more mystifying vagaries of American life. For Rinku and Dinesh, coming to the States was tantamount to visiting another planet. Even elevators and drinking fountains were magical and mysterious. JB eventually found that his new, ad hoc family gave him not just pleasure but purpose in life.
Bernstein believed the story would make a good movie, and he suggested the idea to producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray. Through their Mayhem Pictures banner and Disney, Ciardi and Gray have produced several inspirational true stories including “Miracle,” “Invincible” and “Secretariat.”
The idea, less about baseball and more about the special bond between JB and Rinku and Dinesh, was what appealed to producers Ciardi and Gray. “We saw JB at a Super Bowl party right before he left for India and I remember him saying he was going there to do a reality show,” Ciardi recalls. “It sounded crazy, but two years later he had gotten two kids signed and he came to us with this story. It was a really compelling and heartwarming story that truly resonated with us. The idea that this guy goes to India with the sole intention to find an athlete to bring back and get signed to Major League Baseball, and at first they’re just an investment but it turns into a real family relationship - that’s the emotional core and through-line that appealed to us.”
As they developed the story into “Million Dollar Arm” (rated PG for brief profanity and mild situations; and with a running time of 124 min.), the movie, Ciardi and Gray found like-minded partners in Roth Films producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel.
Roth, who has directed motion pictures and held executive positions at various Hollywood studios, recalls, “Mark Ciardi came to me four years ago and said he had this nice little indie project, and as soon as he started telling me about the story, I knew the story, because I’m an avid sports fan. I’d seen something about it on ESPN. I think by then I’d read about it in Sports Illustrated and I had also done ‘The Rookie’ with Mark. I actually called him up on my way to work one day and told him I just read a story in the L.A. Times and I thought it would be a great movie.”
Roth continues, “I like to tell optimistic stories, I like to tell stories where people are sittng in the audience and they think, ‘Well, if these guys can do that, I can do anything.’ And the whole notion of two kids coming from villages in India, who had never seen a baseball game, never worn a baseball glove and the idea that they can come to America and succeed was fascinating. At the same time, I was equally interested in JB Bernstein’s story, the agent, because here’s a man whose life is going down a certain path and he changes. It’s one of my favorite themes when people can change at any time. Anything is possible. It’s not an American dream; it’s kind of a world dream.”
—taken from the production notes of Million Dollar Arm, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios