Virat Kohli has just been dismissed. Mahendra Singh Dhoni senses an opportunity and decides to promote himself to counter the threat of Muralitharan. You can make out it's the dressing room at the Wankhede Stadium; there is a picture of Dilip Vengsarkar in action adorning the wall with Dhoni's famous No 7 jersey hanging next to it. You know it's Dhoni from his familiar gait, the way he holds his bat, his idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. It's a pivotal moment in the match and your heart is racing as you mutter under your breath, "Come on, Dhoni."
Of course, this is just a movie, but you can swear you are going through the same emotions and excitement you feel when watching a similar scene unfolding on your TV screen in a real match. Sushant Rajput already looks the part. There is a full house at the theater chanting "Dhoni Dhoni", creating a stadium-like atmosphere. Excited, you buckle in for the ride.
Spread over three hours, Dhoni: The Untold Story takes you through various events and places in the life of "Mahi", as everyone calls him in the movie. I have always been a Dhoni admirer. A movie on his life was an emotional, at times almost spiritual experience for me.
But despite the initial excitement, the ride didn't end as well as I expected, which is a shame for a movie about the greatest finisher in the modern game, and one that had promised so much. As a lifelong sports fanatic, I have always looked forward to movies based on sports. If it is based on cricket, then it almost becomes my responsibility to watch it. I remember watching Aamir Khan's Awwal Number on Doordarshan all those years ago, and how despite a poor script, incessant hamming, and technical flaws, I felt gratified in seeing people talk about cricket in a movie.
Aamir Khan finished that movie with a six, a feat he will repeat many years later — or earlier, if you go by the period in which the movie was set — in Lagaan, easily the best cricket movie ever made.
By the way, ever wondered how every Bollywood cricket movie ends with a six? Even Harman Baweja ended Victory with a six off Brett Lee that sailed so high, it broke a light bulb in the giant floodlights at the MCG!
It's a shame that Bollywood hadn't explored sports movies as eagerly as it should have before. Sports gives you the perfect recipe for dramatic stories where you can witness a winner and a loser, pure joy and pure agony, inspiration and shame, all unfolding at the same time, overlapped with each other.
I am glad that Bollywood is now making up for it with fictional stories, biopics, and even biopics riddled with fiction that revolve around sports. One area where we weren't at par with Hollywood sports movies was the depiction of the sport itself. Dhoni: The Untold Story addresses that part and sets the bar for future productions to emulate.
In Rajput, we have an actor who has the physique, fitness, and grace of an actual cricketer. To a trained eye, it's always easy to differentiate between an actor who is just repeating a batting motion he has just been taught, as was the case with Emraan Hashmi in his portrayal of Azhar, and one who can actually hold a bat, like Sushant can.
You fall in love with the way Sushant stands at the crease, wipes his forehead under the grill, and then throws both his hands up and bends down to take his stance. He raises his bat high every time he taps it on the ground. Every mannerism reminds you of Dhoni. Even when he is shown giving a post-match interview for the first time, he speaks just like Dhoni used to at that time, with trite remarks and deliberate pauses.
And of course, there is the famous helicopter shot, and it gets a lot of attention. From how Dhoni picks it from a friend in a local tennis ball match at Ranchi, to every time they show him batting in the middle, you are never far away from a helicopter shot. But if I had to nitpick on the technical aspects, I can point out that Sushant's grip on the bat could have been more bottom handed, to make it appear more Dhoni-like.
The first half of the movie takes you through the inspiring story of Dhoni's childhood and early cricket career. Father Anupam Kher is back in his Bend it like Beckham avatar, trying to keep Dhoni off the playground as much as possible. The way young Dhoni fights adversities, setbacks and frustrations at every step to steadily climb the ladders of success is heartwarming and should easily be the high point of the movie for a dedicated Dhoni fan.
His tongue-in-cheek remarks as a kid while walking in to bat or talking to his school coach are genuinely funny and you can almost imagine Dhoni, with his dry sense of humour, talking like that in his early days. Apart from the portrayal of the titular character, Neeraj Pandey has paid a lot of attention to detail to ensure everything in the movie looks authentic. To depict a Cooch Behar trophy match from 1999, they actually show Keenan stadium in Jamshedpur, where the match was played.
They even manage to find a proper Yuvraj Singh lookalike who scored a mammoth 358 in that match. Every match detail from Dhoni's U-19 days to his Deodhar trophy and India A performances seems well researched and accurate.
The second half of the movie is mainly about Dhoni's love interests, with brief glimpses about his life as an Indian cricketer. The major challenge in making a biopic is not what to show but what to exclude. In this case, Dhoni's India career is mostly ignored, something I already expected given the title had the words "untold story" in it. Dhoni's encounters with women in his life are fun, to begin with, but get dull and needlessly long with a few too many songs and trademark Bollywood big budget on-location scenes.
From time to time, they keep showing Dhoni shooting an ad for some product. Doing it once would have been fine, but doing it for several products, including the fairness cream that Sushant himself endorses, gets seriously annoying. All this takes a toll on the length of the movie, which is now over three hours, and all you want now is to go back to the 2011 World Cup final.
Eventually, they do go back to the match, with Ravi Shastri in his booming voice trying to add to the drama. They show actual footage from the match, but the pictures all look grainy. In an effort to overlay Sushant's face over Dhoni's, it seems they had to compromise on the resolution of the pictures and you seem deprived of watching World Cup final properly on a big screen, which would have been an experience in itself for cricket fans.
I am no movie critic, so I will refrain from out star ratings. Instead, I would like to hand out a "man-of-the-match" award to Sushant Singh Rajput for a memorable portrayal of Dhoni. The movie had set out to chase a stiff target set by Dhoni fans and despite falling short, it can claim a moral victory and take a lot of positives from it. Cricket is the real winner at the end of the day!