Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Kiara Advani, Disha Patani, Anupam Kher, Bhumika Chawla
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Neeraj Pandey’s “MS Dhoni- The untold story” which has been released today was long awaited by the fans of the Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni. Finally the wait is over and the movie has been released. The movie is a highly unusual enterprise. Never before in the history of cinema has a biopic of an active sportsman been mounted with quite this level of patronage from the subject himself.
This unabashed puff-job has been bankrolled by Dhoni's long-time confidant and business partner Arun Pandey and personally greenlighted by the cricketer.
Objectivity isn't, therefore, the film's strong suit. So what remains untold inevitably puts what is told in the shade.
The movie begins with a promise. Young Mahi is more interested in football, badminton and tennis, and tries to blow off his first coach (Rajesh Sharma) who spots his potential. The entire ‘bachpan’-adolescence section, featuring the father (Anupam Kher) who thinks a job will take his son much further than sports, the mother who believes in her son, the sister (Bhumika Chawla) who is a solid support to him, his bunch of loyal friends who just know he can do it, has been crafted with heart and feels authentic. We see Mahi (Sushant Singh Rajput) trying and failing and trying again, despite all the roadblocks, to keep his eye on his goal: to be part of the Indian team and play for his country, and we root for him.
Till then, bully for Neeraj Pandey and the film, even if it is already feeling stretched and repetitive. What works for the film in the first half is the life-like re-creation of life in a small town (Ranchi), a family getting by on slender means and yet being able to find it in themselves to get behind a bright-eyed lad who dreams big, and is willing to work for it.
In the way it shows Mahi’s often herculean attempts to become visible to the powers that be (he can smash the ball all across the ground effortlessly, and wicket-keep beautifully too), the film becomes almost copy-book in telling us that strokes may come easy but getting invited into privileged sporting enclaves is exceedingly tough. But, and this is the message that comes through loud and clear, that it can be done. You can be a small town boy, and if you have talent and a little bit of luck, you can be unstoppable.
Up till here, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s story, the mostly untold part for most of us, holds us. It tells us that it is right for us to aspire, and that anyone can do it.
Then the curse of the second half strikes, and it goes into an irreversible slide. Two romances arrive in swift succession (Disha Patani, Kiara Advani, both sparkly, both reduced to sidebars). There are songs and dances. There is a stab at the intrigue that governs selection processes at various cricketing bodies, including the mighty BCCI, but it is laughably feeble.
The entire focus is on Dhoni who is shown as the sole match-winner from the Indian side. His team-mates, which include Indian cricketing greats (Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and others), are seen in flashes, either from the back or in profile. There are no dressing room scenes with Dhoni-as-captain strategizing with his team-mates. No scenes, in fact, with other players, except for a couple of stray ones with Yuvraj Singh.