MS Dhoni The Untold Story cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Rajesh Sharma, Bhumika Chawla, Kumud Mishra, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani, Harry Tangri
MS Dhoni The Untold Story director: Neeraj Pandey
To create a true, full-blooded biopic, filmmakers need a free-hand: MS Dhoni The Untold Story, which claims to give us Mahendra Singh Dhoni Uncut, is much more generous with details from his childhood and his days of struggle than from his blazing tenure as star wicketkeeper-batsman-captain of the Indian cricket team.
The result, with the exception of a few interesting bits and pieces, is bland and predictable. The over-long film cherry-picks the details it wants to serve us, skirting all grey areas and controversies: there are no smart nose-digs, only ingratiating bouquets; only hurrahs (the critique is so muted that we can barely hear it), and loud background music which is used to drum up emotion and drama.
It begins with 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 lifelike 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 copybook 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. 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 teammates, which include Indian cricketing greats (Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and others), are seen in flashes, either from the back or in profile. There is no dressing room banter with his team-mates. No scenes, in fact, with other players, except for a couple of stray ones with Yuvraj Singh (Harry Tangri).
The quality of cricketing on screen is excellent. Rajput looks right at home with the bat and gloves, as do the other actors on the pitch. You wish there were some more cricketers — all significant contributors to Indian tests and one-day cricket and the glitzy T20 tournaments, during the years Dhoni entered and captained them — in this tale. For cricket is a team sport, right? MS Dhoni makes it seem like a one-man army.
This film had potential to present us with the recent Indian cricketing story, warts and all. Sadly it’s more hagiography than biography: the cricketer is reduced to a being singing-romancing Bollywood hero rather than a top-flight cricketer, a master strategist, and a captain who led from the front. True champions have that edge that no one else does: on that score, the real-life Dhoni hits it out of the park, every single time. Too bad the reel Dhoni gets stumped just when he is getting started.