To say that cricket is a religion in India is a cliché. And a cliché that cannot be avoided when you are talking about a film on Mahendra Singh Dhoni. And that is precisely what makes M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story an experience worth trying. More so with a director like Neeraj Pandey at the helm.
As a director Neeraj Pandey has proven his mettle while dealing with thrillers. MS Dhoni is hence away from his usual beat of work. But that does not seem to be much of a problem. The director deals with the film as an in-form batsman who makes his intentions clear as soon as he assumes crease. Neeraj Pandey aims at giving his audience goosebumps and he does that within the first five minutes of the film.
The film primarily runs in flashback, taking the audience to the day of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s birth. They screenplay establishes Dhoni’s personality as a child, of one with a desire to do more than his contemporaries. Of how he was actually more interested in football than cricket and how he was lured into the sport by the coach of his school. He was more interested in playing with the bigger football than a running around with a small cricket ball. The screenplay seeks to establish the single-minded approach that the player had and the difficulties that he faced before he made it to the Indian national team. And it also skirts the issue of alleged rivalry with Virender Sehwag.
The first half of this long film – it is three hours and five minutes long – is exceptional. The goosebumps never die out. Moment after moment ensures you are at the edge of emotions, laughing or at the brink of shedding that tear. There is a scene where Dhoni the child begs his mother to buy him a Sachin Tendulkar poster. “Who is this god? What sort of crown is he wearing (referring to the helmet)?” his mother asks. The hat is tipped at the master blaster, subtly but effectively enough. You will feel the joy and you will feel Dhoni’s grief. And Sushant Singh Rajput does not let his director down.
It is the second half however where Neeraj Pandey falters by a bit. In between the real story of the rise of Dhoni, the director needed to fit in two love stories. Much of the second half concentrates on Dhoni finding his love than his career. There are fleeting references to his daring ways as a captain. The director tries hard here to include an emotional side to the cricketer’s personality as well, apart from his ability to play the game.
Much of the purpose of the film is achieved through a number of characters around Dhoni’s life – his mother, his friends who go the extra mile to help him, the teacher who trained him in the game etc. And Neeraj Pandey brings out excellent performances from all of them. Rajesh Sharma is the best of the lot. Anupam Kher and Kumud Mishra are just as good.
The film marks the debut of Disha Patani. First impression, we have a pretty new actress who can act well. Disha plays Priyanka Jha, Dhoni’s first girlfriend. Kiara Advani plays Sakshi Dhoni and she does her part of looking adorable.
Let’s not get carried away. The purpose of this biopic is just what most such films are intended to do. Deify the person. But the difference comes in the way it is done. While we had a badly done Azhar earlier this year, M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story shows the way. Neeraj Pandey, in fact, goes a step further. He uses actual footage of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli playing and superimposes Sushant Singh’s face into Dhoni’s face. So you actually see a Yuvraj Singh hugging Dhoni on the field. And in a moment of brilliance, he leaves out Sushant and shows real Dhoni. Whistles and claps there. In cricketing terms, M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story is a slightly mistimed stroke where the ball bounces just before the boundary-line before crossing it for a neat four runs.