Neeraj Pandey’s ambitious M S Dhoni biopic clocks in at 3 hours and 10 minutes, pretty much the same length as a T20 game. And it is designed to be just as much of a crowd pleaser. But while it may have its cricketing heart at the right place, it is sadly bereft of a sharply observant cricket brain.
Delving into multiple threads of Dhoni’s rise from an unassuming cricketer to World Cup winning captain, it fills its plate with a bit too much that results in its monster run time, but heartwarming and relatable humor and a certain amount of unexpected tenderness cushion its rough edges. It is a story that nests within itself a liberalised India’s growing ambitions of making it big and that ever present friction between choosing sports and a career. (There is even a song titled “Kheloge Kudooge Banoge Kharab…” based on a popular idiom.)
— Sushant Singh Rajput (@itsSSR) October 1, 2016
We see those ambitions and conflicts through Dhoni’s viewpoint, who Sushant Singh Rajput plays so superbly that it is safe to say he helicopters one right out of the park in the acting department. Add to it an ensemble cast that does its bits and you have a heady brew of nostalgia and standard sports biopic fare that, while not shockingly original, is still a barrel of fun. The outcome is well known, and hence the dramatic stakes are often low, but both Rajput’s and his co-stars’ earnestness shines through in those scenes.
However the one bit where it does slip is in addressing the core turning points of MSD’s career – for example, his appointment as captain -which seem to somehow just matter of factly keep happening. Or maybe that is the genius of this movie trying to capture the essence and the zeitgeist of Dhoni. Just like the man himself doesn’t make too big a deal of anything and keeps taking life on as it comes, the film seems to move from one thread to another without burdening itself with the need for an overarching narrative.
The most impressive aspect though is its attention to operational detail (unlike Azhar earlier in the year which ran a rough shod over any kind of authentic depiction of cricket). The authenticity lent by a cameo from Kiran More (as part of the board of selectors) or an honest moment dealing with Dhoni’s so called feud with Sehwag are complemented well by the game footage that has Sushant Singh inserted digitally in place of Dhoni. The real scenes, whether from the 2003, 2007 or 2011 World Cups or then 2008 Tri series final in Australia, all induce some level of hyper reality that covers for the uneven narrative.
MS Dhoni: The Untold Story has its drags and its drops, but it is, more than a biopic, a nostalgic love letter to our love of cricket.