Balvir Chand well known for being the lookalike of Sachin Tendulkar, knows all about reflected glory, having soaked in the adulation for years. Chand was sought out for pictures in the stands while the original tamed bowlers on the field, he was so convincing a duplicate he was made brand ambassador for a Mumbai food chain.
But looks can only take one this far. Chand lost his job due to downsizing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Worse still, he and three family members were infected as well.
On June 21, doctors at Sahlon village in Punjab, told the 50-year-old he can leave the isolation ward, eleven days after Chand, his wife, daughter and younger son, though asymptomatic, had tested positive for Covid -19. Like countless migrant-earners, he too had returned to his village after losing his job.
Chand was brand ambassador of Goli vada pav—an ethnic fast food chain with 350 outlets in more than 90 cities, and earned enough to be able to live in a rented flat in Mumbai’s Vikroli suburb. Chand has carried his Tendulkar persona for 22 years. He would be the star attraction at shop opening, amuse visitors with one-liners, and pose for photographs.
“They lost business after the lockdown and let go of a lot of staff. I too was asked to leave; they said they would hire me back when things improve,” says Chand.
Paying rent became difficult, and when inter-state travel resumed, Chand, his wife and three children took a train to return to their village. The Paschim Express journey from Mumbai to Ludhiana though left three of them Covid-19 positive. “We took all precautions, carried 15 bottle of sanitizers, N95 masks, our own food. But there were a lot of passengers who were quite careless. I can say from experience that travelling is not safe right now.”
Chand was first told of his uncanny resemblance in 1989, when a 16-year-old Tendulkar made his India debut. “Someone in my village came to me to say I looked like the young cricketer who smashed big runs against Pakistan. They showed cricket on Doordarshan, but I was busy playing kabaddi.”
Later, when he saw the similarity, Chand got a curly hairstyle. “That’s when the Ludhiana baazar went crazy. I realized I could do something with this.”
After working in a hospital till 1999, Chand, a 10th standard passout, travelled to Delhi to watch the India-Pakistan Test, in which Anil Kumble took all 10 wickets in the second innings to fashion victory. There, Sunil Gavaskar invited him to the commentary box, and the world discovered the ‘other Sachin’. “Later, they took me to Taj hotel to meet Sachin ji. I asked for autographs on six photos I had carried. He was busy signing them when I told him ‘these are my photos, not his’. He was startled, looked at me and smiled.”
When he took the team bus, he opened the window, called me over and requested me to give him those pictures. I kept one and gave him five. It must be the first time Sachin ji would’ve asked something from someone. I was very poor then, I had somehow gathered money to get those photographs for R60.”
Chand then became a regular at ad shoots as Sachin’s double. He took the stage and starred in movie cameos. Being mobbed for selfies hadn’t become popular yet. “Sachin ji’s fandom was unreal. People would come to me and say, ‘let us touch you’. I have met a person who touched me, and his hands began to shiver. I would wonder what Sachin meant to him.”
He travelled to England, South Africa and Canada for his looks. After Tendulkar’s retirement in 2013, public appearances have dried up. “Sachin ji’s face has given me lot of shahurat (fame), not so much daulat (riches). But I can write, compose songs; I will try to use my own talent. Hopefully, jobs will be back and people will find value in my freaky appearance again.”