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Million Dollar Arm a clash in cultures

MMillion Dollar Arm Poster
Walt Disney Pictures

J.B. Bernstein is a hot-shot sports agent who sets out to find two Indian cricket players who can “pitch” to Major League Baseball standards. Million Dollar Arm, the true story of Bernstein’s adventure, is a Bollywood movie without dancers and singers, but it has a huge cast of extras – largely children and young men.

Bernstein (played by Jon Hamm) needs to find someone new to represent. He knows nothing about cricket and even less about Indian culture and food. Pitching in cricket means something different than in American baseball. A cricket pitch entails throwing a cricket 22 yards across the playing field between the pitcher and the batter.

Money is raised and Bernstein sets out for India with an old, tired baseball scout, Ray Poitevint (played by Alan Arkin). Poitevint is full of good advice, but he sleeps through most of the movie, waking up at key moments. He carries a radar gun, and watches for a pitcher who can pitch fastballs at 80 mph or more.

Food is the link that ties the two cultures together, and helps the two young Indian men to become comfortable with American culture while retaining their own culture.

The journey

Bernstein, Poitevint, and a young Indian translator who knows nothing about American baseball, Amit Rohan (played by Pitobash Triathy), travel across India without finding anyone who qualifies. Then they visit a track-and-field school and find two 18-year-olds, Dinesh Patel (played by Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (played by Surai Sharme).

Bernstein visits his pitchers’ homes and promises to take care of Patel and Singh, which he has to learn how to do. He has no plans except to let the translator, who is not much older than Patel and Singh, help them as they fend for themselves.

Compounding the food culture differences is Bernstein’s lack of compassion and understanding. Early on, we see Bernstein eating cereal, maybe oatmeal, and Brenda Paauwe (played by Lake Bell), a doctor who lives in his guest house, eating what may be a bagel and cream cheese.

The food and culture issue becomes a curse when the young men and Bernstein come back to the U.S. An insensitive Bernstein drops the men at a high-end hotel, something new to all three. They try to go out to eat and cause a cultural incident when they break the hotel elevator.

Not knowing what to do, Bernstein brings them home to his very high-end bachelor pad and orders what he thinks all young people like: pizza and soda.

The social event

Warned by several people that he needs to spend more time with his guests, Bernstein brings the three Indian young men to their first American social event, presenting them with a display of food and beverages they have never seen. They eat and drink a lot of everything, including beef, chicken, and pork dishes, and a punch they did not know was spiked. It upsets their stomachs, which are accustomed to a typical Indian diet that is largely vegetarian. The young Indians throw up all over Bernstein’s pricey sports car.

Finally Bernstein trades his sports car for a larger car to drive everyone around in. He lets a local college baseball coach work with the hardworking young Indians, but he does not stay to see them practice. This upsets their coach, National Pitching Association founder Tom House (played by Bill Paxton).

The young men try to cook for themselves, and fail. After one cuts his finger, Dr. Paauwe befriends them. She does the cooking following their instructions. They prepare a feast for Paauwe and Bernstein, and join them in a patio between the two houses.

The tryouts

Bernstein sets up a tryout in a parking lot. It fails. At Poitevint’s suggestion, Bernstein arranges for a second demonstration on a university baseball field. The boys relax and pitch well, measured by the ever-present radar guns clocking their pitches. Scouts attend, and the rest is history. The real Patel and Singh now play for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Million Dollar Arm premiered on May 6, in Hollywood, CA. At the premiere, the top winners of pitching contests at Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California competed for a top prize of $1 million.