An Jo on MS Dhoni
The opening scene from MS Dhoni: The Untold Story is one of the better masala-laden, goose-bump inducing scenes I have witnessed in recent times after the one in HAIDER where Irrfan Khan makes his entry on-screen right before the interval. Dhoni isn’t watching his team batting in the 2011 world-cup final from the stands; he is watching it alone, ON a television set – a remarkable scene that conveys his focusing power. He wants to sit alone and absorb the proceedings. This is a logical conclusion then to the scenes where he is shown asking his girl-friend/s not to call him during a 5 day test-match since his priorities could be challenged. He then goes up to Gary Kirsten, whom the audience doesn’t see, and flatly tells him that he is promoting himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh, since it is Muttiah who’s bowling: And he walks with such an air of determination and confidence that demonstrates what ‘leading from the front’ is all about; what leadership is all about; what basking in pressure-cooker situations is all about; what meeting the expectations of a 1.25 crore sea of humanity is all about. Helmer Neeraj Pandey captures the ‘essence’ of Dhoni as only imagined by us in that singularly striking scene.
The initial 2 hour-length of the movie is a fine depiction of Mahi’s untold story. Neeraj is at his best when he focuses on the ‘before’ of MS: Right from the confusion of whether his mother has given birth to a boy or a girl to his selection in the Under-19 team, it’s a fine watch. Those invisible men and women who supported MS are given a fine representation, right from a hilarious Rajesh Sharma who’s asking his wife to haggle for fish quickly so that he can get back to cricket coaching on a Sunday to his sister and mother who support his passion for sports to the Railways head-honcho Mr. Ganguly to Kumud Mishra’s character from the coal industry to his friends who drive him to Calcutta on bone-crunching roads to participate in the Duleep Trophy. It’s a treat to watch how the sum of all these supposedly ‘minute’ things leads to a greater Dhoni. MS, as a kid, gets up in the middle of one night to see his father who slept at 9 pm but got up at 11 pm to water the play-ground. It’s a fine scene that depicts a son caught between his dreams and the harsh reality of his family struggling to be, at best, middle-class. In one of the finer scenes, when MS is not selected at one of the zonal levels, he orders ‘samosas’ for all his friends who were expecting him to be selected but were disappointed upon knowing that he wasn’t in consideration at all. Instead of groping or hitting the bottle, he says that he wants to remember the day as a learning lesson with a positive attitude and ‘marks’ the day by sharing samosas with his buddies! Through-out the first 2 hours of the film, Neeraj decorates his movie with such individual gems. The scene where he learns about the helicopter shot from his friend is a fine example of the ‘unconventional’. [In a later scene, when the selection of MS comes up for discussion, Kiran More asks one of the selectors to clearly enunciate the difference between ‘lack’ of technique and being unconventional.] The scenes of MS working as TTE trying to meet other TTEs on different railway platforms at Kharagpur junction to change sheets are marvelously conceived and shot. As is the scene where MS talks about Yuvraj’s batting and why Bihar lost the match against Punjab not on the cricket-ground but on the basket-ball ground. [And how can one forget the scene of MS’s Sardar-friend asking for sponsorship for MS from a willow-manufacturer in Jalandhar and ‘emotionally-blackmailing’ him by reminding him that he is ready to sponsor Pakistani players like Saqlain and Moin Khan but not MS! I couldn’t help but smile wryly at this scene in the context of the current tensions between India and Pakistan.] There’s also a scene which shows that MS HAD TO take a dump in an Indian-style toilet. It’s as if the director is telling the audience through MS: ‘Good times wait for you ahead. Tomorrow, you will unfortunately still need to take a dump, but by God, you will take a dump in the best of internationally famous 5-star hotels! [I was put off by the ‘force-fullness’ of this scene but I let it go as a metaphor.] There are many scenes with fine touches, and I can go on and on, but these are best viewed than described.
The film, however, goes down-hill with women entering MS’s life. Dhoni, the player, might have soared greater heights after he fell in love but out here, the movie rapidly descends into mediocrity when his love-life starts playing out on-screen. They are so bland that one could replace the character of Dhoni with umpteen Emraan Hashmi’s portrayals and one wouldn’t notice any difference. It is pure ‘Bollywood’ when it comes to MS’s women and his love-life. [There’s only a couple of poignant scenes where it is revealed that (i) MS is actually an introvert and hesitant to commit (ii) Saakshi breaking down unable to handle the ‘pressures’ of press hounding her as MS’s girl-friend.
In its entirety, the problem with this movie is that it plays safe: And it doesn’t give richer insights into that ‘mind’ of MS, the wicket-keeper/batsman. It is such scenes that could have added flavor to the vanilla exposed to the consumer of cricket in India. There is NOT a single scene that explores a mind ticking frantically in pressure-cooker situations in matches against Pakistan or Australia. [There’s a scene that shows him asking the selectors to make a tough call regarding axing some well-known players/batsmen because of poor fielding. But that’s it: And THAT, we already know.] We also know how Jadeja and Raina continue to be on the team because Dhoni believes in them. I read the newspapers. I know. I don’t need this movie to repeat the same thing on-screen. Most of the on-pitch facets of Dhoni’s are dismissed off in broad-strokes. Yes, the defeat against Bangladesh weighs on his mind even when cleaning the carburetor from one of his umpteen bikes, but that’s about it. There are many things one would want to know. How, for instance, did MS react when he met Tendlya for the first time in his life, in-person? It is shown in a weirdly passive way when he asks for Sachin’s autograph for his first girl-friend. This could have been one of the most interesting scenes that would have touched the hearts of millions that consider Sachin the ‘emotional’ strength of India on a cricket battle-field. For a child who asks his mother to buy a poster of Tendlya in lieu of actual ‘Hindu’ Gods, it is weird to see that the director doesn’t consider it necessary to can a shot of MS meeting Tendlya for the first time in his life.
Of the cast, it’s the unsung heroes that leave a long-lasting impression as I mentioned before. Anupam Kher is fine as the father who, like million other fathers, believes that education is the only materialistic salvation in this country. Rajesh Sharma, as the school coach Banerjee, is outstanding. Shushant Singh is fine when he plays Dhoni on the grounds, but off-grounds, he carries the same expressions he carved out in PK. Of course, he gets the dialect and the ‘coolness’ quotient of MS quite right. The songs are outright forgettable. [Just re-visit SRK’s TEEJA TERA RANG THA MEIN TOH in CDI and you will know what it means to shake one to the core.]
On the whole, the movie is a mixed-bag with the ‘before’ MS mesmerizingly captured and the ‘after-super-successful’ Dhoni being almost reduced to a caricature. You walk out after the first 2 hours, and you miss nothing. However, at the end, when they show the real Dhoni taking a victory-lap, and the wolf-whistles start getting louder, you know who the real hero of this enterprise is – it’s THE MS.
Its ironic then, that a man who changed the destiny of the Indian cricket team in ‘limited-over’ format, has a 184 minute movie dedicated to him!!