MS Dhoni: The Untold Story review: Understated, unassuming like the man himself

Neeraj Pandey grants Dhoni’s wish for a non-glorifying film, but the biopic falls short of being a great story. Sushant Singh Rajput is exemplary as MS Dhoni.

Rating: 3 / 5

Former Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has announced his retirement from international cricket. Dhoni was arguably the most successful Indian skipper skipper, winning a ODI and T20 World Cup each. As an era ends in Indian cricket, we decided to revisit his biopic MS Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016]. The late actor Sushant Singh Rajput has essayed the role of Dhoni in the Neeraj Pandey directorial. Yours truly had penned a review when writing for the other blog – theharyanvifundamentalist.wordpress.com.

Review by Mayur Lookhar

Before I get down to the review, I’d like to turn the clock back to 18 August 20016. It was the trailer launch of MS Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016]. Three hours have gone by. Calls for a boycott by the frustrated media begin to gather steam, but then the great man arrives, apologies to all, wins over everyone with his talk, then leaves the arena, not wanting to rob the man [Sushant Singh Rajput], who’ll step into his shoes, of his share of limelight.

Indian cricket and Dhoni fans weren’t surprised by this humble act. Modesty has been Dhoni’s biggest strength, and all through the near three hours of the biopic, like Dhoni, Sushant Singh Rajput was a modicum of modesty.

The biopic begins at a crucial juncture – the final of the 2011 Cricket World Final. India, chasing 274 to win, are placed precariously at 97/2, when the spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan comes in to the bowling attack. Watching the proceedings alone in the dressing room is the captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who takes an instinctive call to promote himself up the batting order. He tells the coach Gary Kirsten of his decision and asks him to explain the same to the padded up regular no.5 batsman Yuvraj Singh.

The third wicket [Kohli] falls and the big moment arrives, Dhoni’s bare chiseled body tucks in a -shirt evoking a raucous ‘Dhoni’ chant in the theater. Oh boy, are we in for a epic?

Most sports biopic end with a historic triumph. Well, that was a forgone conclusion as director Neeraj Pandey had proclaimed that the film will cover Dhoni’s life till the epic 2011 World Cup triumph.

The winning moment will have to wait, time to turn the clock back, a time to know the ‘untold’ in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016]. So, here was a boy who nearly was confused by the doctor for some other woman’s child. Pan Singh Dhoni (Anupam Kher) is not exactly brimming with joy, but he’s happy to have a son as his second child. Singh’s measured demeanor, humility is indeed passed on to his boy. What isn’t is though is Mahendra’s impish sense of humour, the ability to speak to his mind without fear.

Be it the time when he snubbed his school cricket coach, or expressing his frustration to his boss at Kharagpur or to taking the tough call as captain to drop three senior players for the 2008 ODI tri series in Australia, Dhoni doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind.

More than his triumphs, Dhoni wanted the film to showcase his journey. Director Neeraj Pandey has tapped into these struggles, presenting them in a realistic manner. All these years, we’ve always wondered what is it about Dhoni that win or lose, he never shows any emotions. For a man who endured a heavy personal loss, the game should could never be bigger than life. Dhoni is such a tough man, that he keeps his emotion in check upon hearing of a tragic personal loss. The tears do flow but whilst standing all alone on the road.

Another gem which is instrumental in shaping Dhoni’s calm demeanor is the scene where a distraught Dhoni reluctantly bares his heart out to AK Ganguly, his boss at the railway. He’s tired of juggling between cricket and an arduous job of a ticket collector. Ganguly though is not exploitative boss. His pearls of wisdom using the cricketing glossary is an invaluable advice not just for a cricketer, but every struggling individual can take heart from Ganguly’s gem.

Disha Patani and Kiara Advani, who play, Priyanka and Sakshi, respectively, the two important women in Dhoni’s life, share similar traits, which explains why the the two women came into Dhoni’s life. Patani and Advani find themselves in the most pivotal roles of their respective, career, but like their reel characters, are left to play a second fiddle to Dhoni. Well, perils of dating a superstar cricketer.

Pandey scores full marks for getting the right ensemble. Unheralded actor Herry Tangiri is excellent in his portrayal of Yuvraj Singh. You need to rub your eyes again to believe that he’s isn’t the real Yuvraj. Tangiri’s act drew one of the loudest cheer from the audience. Well, if any filmmakers decides to make a biopic on Yuvraj SIngh, then he/she needn’t look beyond Tangiri.

Rajesh Sharma, Anupam Kher, Bhumika Chawla, and the actress playing Dhoni’s mother all provide the ideal support system as family/mentor in Dhoni’s career. Deeply rooted to Ranchi, the characters played by these actors are understated, and a tad under utilised by Pandey.

One can have the best of support cast, but if the protagonist isn’t up to the mark, it defeats the sole purpose of a biopic. Given his form, there were doubts over Pandey’s choice to cast Rajput as his Dhoni. However, Rajput’s individual career struggle blends perfectly into Dhoni’s trials and tribulation. The physical work apart, Rajput succeeds in portraying Dhoni’s calmness, hunger, restrained emotions to the T. In cricketing parlance, Rajput has smashed a huge six, one that is akin to Dhoni’s career-saving maiden ODI hundred against Pakistan in Vizag, 2004. Rajput aces the body language and mannerism of Dhoni brilliantly.

What ails the film though is a predictable and cumbersome second half. Save for Sakshi and Dhoni’s relationship, the events unfolding in the second half are academic in nature. Surprisingly, Pandey didn’t delve into the fact that how Dhoni first became a captain. Pandey and his team used the ‘Dhoni not wanting three senior’ plot as a marketing gimmick, getting all to speculate that the men in question were the trimurti (triumvirate) of Indian cricket – Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid.

Dhoni was only appointed captain after the three Indian greats chose not to be part of the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007. Though purists saw the wisdom behind this move, but the fans and the media were left angered by the big three not playing. Dhoni led a young team to an unexpected World Cup triumph. This barely few months after the first round exit in the 50 over World Cup in the West Indies.

There was criticism and murmurs that it was Dhoni who perhaps didn’t want the big three of Indian cricket into the T20 team. What went through Dhoni’s mind before he was made the captain? What did he think of the controversy surround the big three not playing? These aspects remain untold.

In fact, the latter half of film of remains shrouded in the untold. How could the most important match in Dhoni and Indian cricket’s life be reduced to a sideshow. What was Dhoni’s thought process?, his conversations with Gautam Gambhir, and then Yuvraj Singh, none of it is covered in the film.

Pandey and the co-producers have paid a bomb to BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) to obtain the footage from the various key matches in Dhoni’s life. Using great edit skills, they’ve plugged Sushant into those key games. [The actor reproducing those shots, moments which are then replaced with the actual footage. Whilst that gives it a sense of reality, but in the process, Pandey fails to make use of the goods available to him. One wonders whether Pandey could have recreated all those scenes? Was that cost too higher than the Rs3 crore that Fox Star Studios reportedly paid to the BCCI?

The problem with MS Dhoni: The Untold Story is that more than the heroics of the man, on occasions it appears to be a thanks giving act by Dhoni. Thank all those who made him MS Dhoni. He’s not a man who can keep all happy, but neither would Dhoni rub anyone the wrong way. And the film does no harm to any fellow cricketer, selector or the key people in Dhoni’s life.

The film can be partly accused of falling into the ‘to please, or not to please ‘ trap but then again, when the man himself has remained restrained all through his life, Pandey had no choice but to give a film that like Dhoni, is unassuming, and understated. MS Dhoni: The Untold Story does have the six appeal, but there needed more to be told for it to be hailed as MS Dhoni: A great story

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