It was quite baffling as to why an active cricketer would indirectly produce a movie about himself, before his playing days are over. I have to be honest and admit I thought it was crass to say the least and of all the people – not something I’d have expected from MS Dhoni. This is after all a man who famously shuns the spotlight, who in his golden moments has more than once stepped aside and let the others take center-stage. So uncharacteristic to say the least. However this is India, we’re talking about cricket and MS Dhoni is a remarkably reticent man – so the ‘Untold Story’ is something you would look forward to, despite your raised eyebrows.
Neeraj Pandey is a director whom after the wonderful Special 26, expect to get the setting right. Which he does as we start off – Ranchi in the 1980’s is wonderfully nostalgic even if you didn’t stay there. And while parts of the growing-up story are a bit silly (suddenly the whole school turning up for an unknown batsman doing well?) there are parts which are great, will resonate with everyone – the hard-nosed coach, the dad who want’s you to study more, the friends who are the most important thing in the world. This then takes us to the most powerful stretch of the movie – the battle between what one believes the world owes you and what the world really owes you. The opportunity to play with Indian Railways, the frustration of a life doing something you don’t thing you’re meant to do, your peers moving ahead and the hard calls that need to be taken – the whole Kharagpur chapter is the high point of the movie.
But after that it goes down-hill, and how. It’s almost like Sushant Singh Rajput gets on the empty train before the interval – little knowing that the train in the movie is heading towards a train-wreck of epic proportions. There are two long romantic angles complete with their own songs, which totally suck any momentum out of the movie. And the Untold Story of the cricketing career is almost forgotten – no captaincy, no IPL, no number 1 in tests and anything which is remotely interesting. Instead we get the usual suspects – the a few early games with the family cheering him on (which was nice), 2007 WC exit (very bad, nothing behind the scenes), T20 WC win (see previous) and straight to the 2011 WC final (1 dressing room dialogue with Kirsten) – with an exaggerated, one-sided and factually incorrect ‘drop 3 seniors’ part added to create just the requisite controversy.
Even this may have been alright considering creative liberties and time constraints of an already 3 hour movie had there been a semblance of an attempt to not make this a hagiography. Alas, that is not to be with any nuance possible furiously cut away to the backward-point boundary. In a profession like the one MS Dhoni is in, with the position that he has and how much it matters to the country he’s in – it is difficult to not be a polarising figure. But even Dhoni’s most ardent fans and advocates would admit that he has his shades of grey, parts to his personality which may not make sense to the world outside but there are reasons to it. This is not even considered though as Demi-God Dhoni is as close to perfection as you may. He always remembers his friends however big a star he becomes, never drinks, even when frustrated is respectful to his parents, perfectly romantic without appearing stalkerish (drive down to Aurangabad suddenly?) any kind of girl and so on. A little bit of weakness, a touch of vice, some quirks and moments of introspection would have added some balance to this extra-saccharine dessert.
Sushant Singh Rajput is great – as someone said he’s got the fine line between imitating/mimicking and getting into the character perfect. Except for the parts where some cheap CGI has put his head on to the real deal – was that EA sports look necessary? This and factual inaccuracies like the Tendulkar poster going back a decade make the the direction tackier than I’d have expected from Neeraj Pandey.
The other part which weirded me out was the willingness of someone to take major (not minor) creative liberties with his own life! Basic reading tells me that there’s a brother who is completely ignored, the first love story was before even an India debut was made, there was a family connection to his current-wife (with the meeting in the hotel highly exaggerated), he’s not in touch with any of his friends from his old life (take this with a pinch of salt). And of course it’s his life, his story and there’s nothing technically wrong with changing it to make it more masaaledaar but it just seems a bit – uncomfortable. Not to mention then get you thinking about the veracity of the rest. Anything for a buck then, even if you’re one of the richest sports-persons in the world.