God cannot be wrong, the believers would tell you. HE has a plan for everything and everyone, and knows what HE is doing. But what about the Gods of cricket, in a country where the game is a religion? Are they infallible, too?
Neeraj Pandey's M.S. Dhoni—The Untold Story would have you believe so. Sachin Tendulkar is, undoubtedly, the God of Indian cricket, for whom the Indians bent over backwards to accommodate his greatness. But, if there is one cricketer who can come anywhere close to his persona both on and off the field, it is 'Captain Cool'. Though his aura might have diminished over the past few years, in his heydays, he was revered by millions of fans. From the fairytale World T20 triumph to the 2011 World Cup win, Dhoni was hailed as the 'Man with the Midas touch'.
Pandey's film deals with this honeymoon period and how the small-town boy Mahi became 'MS'. The 180-minute long film plays out like a T20 match—the opening is promising, like the opening batsmen usually are, on a flat batting track against the hard, new ball. India is in a spot of bother at 114/3 in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka, chasing 275 to win. Out comes the skipper, promoting himself up the order. Pause; time for a flashback.
A football enthusiast, Mahi is spotted by his coach Banerjee (Rajesh Sharma) who convinces him to trade his goalkeeping gloves for wicket-keeping ones. The boy is a natural and he takes big strides in the game with each passing day, much to his father Pan Singh Dhoni's (Anupam Kher) displeasure. He insists Mahi concentrates on his studies and take up a respectable government job instead of ending up like him—a water pump operator. But, his mother and sister (Bhoomika Chawla) support his dream. And it's not just his family, but a devoted gang of friends—Chittu, Param, Santosh to name a few—who become rungs of the ladder for Mahi to climb up in life. Mahi is shown to be a gentleman, far removed from the vices of life, like when he forbids his friend from drinking.
The film excels in the first half much like a T20 match in the first six overs, with stellar performances from the supporting cast, including Kumud Mishra. It traces the life of Dhoni from the stadiums of Bihar to Kharagpur railway station where he worked as a ticket collector. Sushant breathes life into the reel Dhoni. His mannerisms, gait, Dhoni's signature shots and looks, including the mole below the left eye, are the testimony to the efforts the actor has put in for the role and the director's eye for details. Another 'lookalike' who catches the eye is Herry Tangiri as Yuvraj Singh. The audience gets a whiff of the 'rivalry' between the two. But, it ends there.
The match... er... film, however, loses pace after the interval when Dhoni gives up his job to focus on cricket. The focus of the film, though, ironically, is anything but cricket. Cupid strikes in the form of Priyanka (Disha Patani) and the all-important wicket is down. The 'match' meanders through the usual Bollywood love routine sans the kissing part. Unlike Besabriyaan in the first half, songs like Kaun Tujhe and Phir Kabhi, though melodious (hats off to music composers Meghdeep Bose and Amal Mallik), unnecessarily stretch the film. The chemistry between Sushant and an impressive Disha is noteworthy. It is not known for sure what actually happened to the real Priyanka Jha. Was Dhoni serious about the relationship? The film does not answer the questions and instead finds refuge in a tragic twist. Dhoni finds love again in the form of Sakshi (Kiara Advani) and it ends well this time.
The audience waits for the big-hitting in the final overs to begin. The controversies in Dhoni's real life are glossed over—be it the axing of three 'unfit' cricketers from the ODI team, his 'affairs', or the spot-fixing scandal in IPL—and it seems the film loses quick wickets in a bid to up the ante and to hurriedly reach the climax, when Dhoni finishes off the World Cup campaign in style with a six. It must be mentioned here that the CGI, barring a few instances, is praiseworthy throughout the film. It brings in the much-needed authenticity in the match sequences.
M.S. Dhoni—The Untold Story might set a match-winning score at the box office, but is Dhoni the glorified, virtuous hero that the film makes him out to be? Some questions are best left unanswered for the greater good.
Film: M.S. Dhoni—The Untold Story
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma, Bhumika Chawla, Kumud Mishra, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani