Saket on MS Dhoni
some thoughts (might contain spoilers)
The most haunting moment in M S Dhoni: The Untold Story arrives around the interval mark, when a dispirited Dhoni is shown sitting on a bench at the Kharagpur train station, ruing his run of bad luck. Things don’t seem to be going to plan and even though he has secured a safe job, his dream of progressing further, in cricket, seems to have hit a roadblock. Seemingly out of nowhere, comes a ghost train and one of its carriages stops right in front of him. The door opens, and as if by magic, he starts hearing chants of Dhoni…Dhoni…Dhoni coming from inside the empty compartment. After a brief delay, the train starts to drift away but by this time Dhoni has made up his mind – it’s time for him to take the plunge into the unknown (Dhoni is, after all, famous for making such instinctive calls). He hops onto the train, quits his job and decides to concentrate fully on his cricket. It’s like the blue pill/red pill moment in The Matrix and it works like a charm. It’s also a carefully crafted masala moment that later on completes this film.
The opening and closing sequences of the film, as expected, are constructed around the most iconic moment etched –forever – in the minds of Indian cricket fans. Thanks to the film, we also get to see Dhoni’s assured reaction–bordering on arrogance – during the 2011 World Cup final. To recount the obvious, while chasing a biggish Sri Lankan total, a couple of quick Indian wickets fall, and Dhoni decides it’s time for him to take charge (another instinctive decision!). He promotes himself up the order, above an in-form Yuvraj Singh (the eventual Man of the Tournament in the 2011 World Cup) and the rest, as they say, is history. The chants of Dhoni…Dhoni…Dhoni which are heard earlier, emanating from inside the ghost train, finally get to be in sync with their real time and place. The ghost train is revealed to be a time-travelling capsule that channels the echoes of Dhoni’s future into his past, right to the point when he needs them the most. It’s an inspired moment of movie-making.
But there is more, in the form of small nuggets from Dhoni’s life. We get to see how Dhoni learnt to play the helicopter shot from his friend, who, in turn, calls it a… thappad shot. We learn that Dhoni, as a boy, wasn’t interested in cricket at all; his goalkeeping skills eventually led to his foray in cricket. When he gets the chance to open the innings (his coach is determined to pigeonhole his talents into wicket keeping only), he responds by decreeing to his opening partner, “Strike Hum Lenge…Tum Run Out Mat Karaa Dena Bas,” and proceeds to score a double hundred. The effectiveness of this short segment is further enhanced by the staging of the event: a small boy runs around Dhoni’s school, publicly announcing to everyone who comes in his sight, Maahi Maar Raha Hai, and pretty soon the cricket ground is full. Maahi, as he is affectionately called, has just taken the first step towards becoming a celebrity..
Moments like these form the cornerstone of this film. We repeatedly get to see people watching Dhoni play out his iconic innings, one by one. Although these people are shown to be heavily invested in Dhoni, be it his father, his coach, or his close friends (his mother is always shown praying for his success during each game), they are, in effect, acting as substitutes for us—the viewers and fans. It goes without saying that we too have devoted countless number of hours doing the exact same thing. Neeraj Pandey deserves kudos for creating this wonderful Meta moment. It goes to show that this isn’t just a staple masala film – it is also thoughtfully made.
On a more personal note, the first half of the film reminds me of a wonderful sequence from Ratatouille — towards the end of the film, when the hard-to-please food critic, Anton Ego, bites into the eponymous dish, he’s immediately transported back in time…to his favorite childhood memory. Watching M S Dhoni makes one feel in the exact same way – all of my childhood memories, involving cricket, came rushing back in. I immediately started thinking about all the nerve-wrecking moments involving the Indian cricket team; the delight and the sorrows accompanying big ticket games, and of course, the agony and ecstasy of being an Indian cricket fan…when a film starts striking these raw notes, it no longer remains just a film, it becomes a memory magnet, and its intended effect gets multiplied, several times over.
Almost predictably then, the film decides to squander the highs by switching tracks, and starts focusing on Dhoni’s love life. It’s not a bad digression, to be fair, but one finds it difficult to reconcile its effect in shaping Dhoni’s (ensuing) destiny. Even so, there is still an extra dimension attached to these love stories – tame as they might seem – they are M. S. Dhoni’s love stories. And for a change, the leading guy is shown bargaining his right to be loved – not the right to love – from a position of strength, driven no doubt by his eminent celebrity status. This makes for an interesting power struggle – the pretty damsels, who fall for him, have to accept his norms and regulations, which include, no phone calls during cricket matches, and treating Valentine’s Day as… just another day (Try saying that to your girlfriend/wife!). Dhoni is also shown to be commitment phobic, which comes as a surprise, given his quick decision-making skills on the cricket field.
These are interesting tidbits, but they probably belong to a different film. Here, they seem to impede the narrative flow. M. S. Dhoni – the film – works best when it reawakens our buried memories. It also works, quite well, as an inspirational story (incidentally Dhoni isn’t the only small town cricketer to make it big; Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Munaf Patel etc have similar life stories, albeit none of them came close to acquiring a legendary status). One can argue about the selective nature of facts presented in the movie (Neeraj Pandey almost comes across as a Dhoni fan, based on the final content), but one can’t deny the film’s core strengths. If you happen to be a cricket fan, you will undoubtedly love it; if not, there is a strong possibility you will still end up liking it. For this reason alone, it’s quite apt to say: well played Dhoni…and well played, Neeraj Pandey!