“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lifts the World Cup after 28 years! And it is an Indian captain, who has been absolutely magnificent in the night of the final!” screamed Ravi Shashtri at the top of his voice and the rest was history. If a man could be given the credit for successfully leading the hopes of 1.2 billion Indians on April 2, 2011, in Wankhede Stadium, he’s none other than the the all-time greatest Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The dramatic journey of Dhoni, from working as a ticket collector at the Kharagpur Station to the most successful Indian cricket team captain ever, deserves to be told on the silver screen and when one gets to see the name of Neeraj Pandey of “A Wednesday” fame as its director, expectations soar.
The film starts with sequences from the 2011 World Cup final and with flashback reverts to the moment of Dhoni’s birth. Here, the story of young Dhoni growing up in a mundane household in Ranchi, Jharkhand and is picked up by the school cricket coach, is where the film begins.
Neeraj does a splendid job by recreating life in a small town with heartwarming relationships between its inhabitants. In this part, the young Dhoni, played by Zeeshan,is also praiseworthy as he echoes the same mannerisms of measured emotions which a grown-up Dhoni shows in most of the scenes later on.
Be it Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma, Prakash Belawadi or Kumud Mishra – everyone complements the journey of MSD in the best possible way with their seasoned acting skills. It is an absolute delight to watch Bhumika Chawla back on the silver screen as Dhoni’s elder sister. One of the best moments of the first half is when Herry Tangri enters a particular sequence and without even uttering a single dialogue – just with his surprisingly exact portrayal of a younger self of Yuvraj Singh – leaves the viewers spellbound!
But here too, at an emotional level, the measured self of MSD entrenches itself deep into the hearts of viewers than the daredevil attitude of Yuvi. Several lighter moments keep the story engaging. The first half leaves no stone unturned to convey the story of a young Dhoni – trying, failing, succeeding, again fading to oblivion compared to his contemporaries but finally catching the train of his success at the Kharagpur station – leaving the job of a ticket collector far behind. His congested home in a mofussil town, a father always wanting him to focus on studies and getting a job than playing cricket, insurmountable odds which such a life throws, establish an instant connect with the dreams of any middle class youth who wants to make it big in life by surpassing all these hurdles.
Post-interval, contrary to anyone’s expectations from a Neeraj Pandey movie, the film takes a predictable turn. Many sequences appear abrupt due to a weak screenplay with the absence of certain seemingly vital portions: how Dhoni rose to become the Indian captain, how he managed to win match after match with his impeccable leadership, dressing room conversations, details of team selection controversies (although one shouldn’t expect room for controversies in a biopic made with the consent of Dhoni himself).
It just eulogises MSD in all matches – blacking out the aspect of an excellent team effort engineered by Dhoni with the support of Gambhir, Sachin and many others! The memories of certain cricketing events are too fresh to forget for the viewers and recreating them in a ham-handed manner could have caused serious damage. Hence, full credit goes to the team for using original videos of cricket matches with the superimposition of Sushant on Dhoni’s face – thereby creating the desired impact.
However, back-to-back romance and songs spoil much of the movie’s captivating pace, which was intact in the first part. There was wider scope for including more drama through cricket in this part by reducing the amount of time devoted to Dhoni’s love life – which of course is integral to the untold angle but has come at the cost of the movie’s natural flow.
Over the years it has been noticed that movies based on cricket are often jinxed – the very recent example being “Azhar.” However, it is important to note that Disha Patani, as Dhoni’s first love, totally outshines Kiara Advani as Sakshi Dhoni. Disha, the former Cadbury girl, is such a visual delight with her smile and natural acting that her sudden on-screen death shakes the audience to the core. There is nothing ‘untold’ that shows how Dhoni’s mind worked or why he promoted himself in the batting order in the World Cup final. It appears to be just a screen adaptation of almost everything we already know about him with the addition of typical Bollywood elements.
But somewhere, despite all these shortcomings, it must either be the magic of Neeraj Pandey’s direction (although it hardly resembles any of his earlier movies) or the man who portrayed Dhoni on screen, which keeps the viewers craving for more even after spending three long yet intriguing hours in the theatre.
Sushant is one actor who gives his heart and soul in whatever he does – be it “Kai Po Che“, “Detective Byomkesh Bakshi” or this film. The erstwhile “Pavitra Rishta” star takes the whole film on his shoulders and just internalises Dhoni. Be it Dhoni’s stoic expressions, walking style or the overall persona – kudos to Sushant’s thorough research. It would not be an exaggeration to say that while watching the movie, one feels no difference between the real MSD and the actor essaying it on the silver screen. Probably there would be no one in the theater who didn’t have goosebumps when Sushant was walking past the dressing room towards the playing field on the night of the final with the whole crowd shouting , “India, India”! Sushant keeps the viewers on their toes every moment he plays cricket or pauses to utter a dialogue – although such sequences are relatively less in the second part. It’s him, who lives the character of Dhoni with an award-winning performance and indeed is the soul of the whole movie.
Due compliment must be given to the background score of Sanjoy Chowdhury which sets the wheel of emotions in motion at right places. Songs such as “Phir bhi”, “Jab tak” by Amaal-Arman Malik are soothing with “Besabriyaan” being the situational best. The only element the biopic lacked is objectivity.
“Ye itne se me khush hone waalon mein se nahi hai” (He won’t be happy with just this much). True to his mother’s words M. S. Dhoni smashes, in the words of Kharagpur DRM Ganguly, “the in-swingers, out-swingers, full-tosses and bouncers that life throws” at him and eventually emerges as the match-winner. It is the life and struggle of the Indian skipper, the impeccable acting of Sushant and the Neeraj Pandey touch – which make this movie what it is – inspirational, engaging, heart-wrenching and leaving everyone teary eyed with Dhoni’s magnificent sixer at the end – thereby displaying the emotions of every named-unnamed person who contributed to Dhoni’s success and those countless fans who cheered for him!
This film is for millions of those who are still playing cricket in the remotest corners of Jharkhand with a dream of making it big one day, just like one among them did a decade ago with a “Never say die” attitude! Dhoni never left any game unfinished – be it the badminton match amidst which he got the news of his selection in the Indian team or the game of life where he triumphed with his zeal and hard-work.
This movie is for all those who are dreamers with open eyes and with the determination to emerge as true champions – just like Mahendra Singh Dhoni. And no matter what the box office results turn out to be, this movie (and Sushant) has already hit a ton with several helicopter shots – as high as the ambitions of that Ranchi boy Mahiya!