Locally filmed ‘Million Dollar Arm’ tells global story

Let’s be honest. Parts of “Million Dollar Arm,” in theaters on May 16, might make you squirm.

The locally shot Disney film is based on the true story of sports agent JB Bernstein, who stages a reality show-like competition in India searching for new baseball talent. The big-screen Bernstein is seemingly oblivious to his potential new recruits’ humble backgrounds. He swaggers through the streets of Mumbai, foisting his impatient sensibilities on his host country. Apparently blind to the slums all around him, he’s eager to turn a fast buck off the impoverished locals.

It feels so … what’s the word? Colonial.

Not to worry.

“‘Million Dollar Arm’ is not a documentary,” producer Mark Ciardi said in a statement. During an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, director Craig Gillespie added that no, Bernstein actually was not the huge jerk portrayed by Jon Hamm.

“We took some creative license,” he said.

The foundation of the real-life story, though, is intact. Bernstein really did travel to a number of cities in India in 2007, staging tryouts in search of pitching talent.

“The hope was to find the next Yao Ming, except for baseball,” Bernstein said in a statement, referring to the Chinese NBA star. “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.”

He discovered Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, played by Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal. Was he successful? We won’t give away the ending (but seriously, what do you think? It’s a Disney film. Plus, Google).

“Million Dollar Arm” is set in India and California and was filmed in India and Atlanta, another tax-credits success story.

“I didn’t know much about Atlanta,” Gillespie said. “I ended up falling in love with Atlanta. I got a little house in the Little Five Points area. We got to shoot in a lot of locations. It was a really good experience.”

Working on the film, for which both Bernstein and Patel served as consultants, was a good experience, too. Whisked from his Australia to New York on a college scholarship, Gillespie knows what it is like to feel suddenly very lost in a huge new place.

“The language barrier was an issue in that I had an Australian accent and ‘Crocodile Dundee’ had just come out,” he joked. “New York City can be a very lonely place, with home being so far away and the sense that you need to prove yourself to the people back home.”

“Million Dollar Arm” feels to him less about sports and more about life.

“I don’t necessarily think of it as a baseball film,” he said. “It makes you re-evaluate your priorities.”

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