Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani
Director: Neeraj Pandey
When India is reeling at 114 for 3 against Sri Lanka in the cricket world cup final of 2011, a man decides to take charge of the situation. It helps that he is also the captain of the team. He silently walks past the crowd, enters the ground and creates history.
The cricketer’s image of rotating the bat as if he is wielding the sword is etched in our memory.
On April 2, 2011, India reaffirms its faith in the hero who was selected into the team through BCCI’s tier-two city programme.
Here, director Neeraj Pandey takes us 15 years earlier when Pan Singh Dhoni (Anupam Kher) is a pump operator in Ranchi. The local stadium needs water and that requires him to wake up at eleven in the night. He waters the stadium in a hazy winter night. Pan’s little son watches him from the balcony of his government quarter, and probably this is the moment when the kid decides to make it big in life.
It’s the story of Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Sushant Singh Rajput), the current India captain and one of the game’s most popular exponents ever.
One may argue about the struggles of a player who gets into the national team at 23. There are many who keep waiting for a call till their bodies stop responding. But, ducking bouncers in search of a half-volley is also a mammoth struggle.
When coach Banerjee (Rajesh Sharma) picks a football-loving kid for the school team’s wicketkeeper job, he only wanted a new boy to play well. The lad turns out to be a brute force, whose mother candidly declares, “Ye itne se me khush hone waalon mein se nahi hai” (Sky is the limit for him).
A teenage Dhoni might be a local cricketing hero, but that doesn’t mean much for his father, who wants the security of a government job for him. This forces the boy to play for small stipend money, but his friends are his strength. They show faith in Mahi, even more than his family does.
However, love doesn’t replace necessities, and the ticket collector’s job brings him to Kharagpur. Not getting enough chances, he looks impatient, but it’s just another perfectly-pitched out-swinger he needs to leave.
There excels Sushant, who is every ounce Dhoni in this ‘box-office oriented’ biopic. His body language, walk, helicopter shot, everything matches the India captain. And where even that can’t do the trick, real footage has been used.
The first half of this nearly 180-minute film goes into the riveting details of a middle-class boy’s life in the hilly town of Ranchi. People are concerned about each other, and there is a genuine love for talented kids. Nobody is a villain here, not even the cricket officials. Optimism and hard work are expected to take people to new destinations.
However, the dream can be smaller. Like, Dhoni’s sister Jayanti (Bhumika Chawla) says, “Mehnat karega toh ek din railway me RM bhi ban sakta hai” (If you’ll keep doing hard work then you can also become the RM in railways). Dhoni smiles, we too.
We knew the man, and now we have seen the journey too. So, what’s still untold?
Maybe the backroom politics of the governing bodies of cricket? Maybe the pressure on the captain? Maybe the sponsors’ role?
This is the point where it begins to falter. Sushant keeps going through, like one true commander on the screen.
A love song here, an overly dramatic scene there, slowly it becomes a typical Bollywood product. It still entertains though. Just don’t expect any take on controversies. The film tries to establish Dhoni above all the petty issues.
A tribute to MSD’s success, this works due to the extensive research. They have touched Dhoni’s tender sides also, but the treatment is likely to suit the protagonist. In short, he may become a cleaner and bigger hero after the film.
Our heroes are generally virtuous, but a biopic also needs objectivity. The director has silver-wrapped the facts that are mostly known.
But, you have to give to Pandey to keep it intriguing enough for you to get hooked throughout the three hours. Unquestionably entertaining. Also, it’s the role of a lifetime for Sushant, and he has killed it.