M S Dhoni: The Untold Story—the Review

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[This WordPress tells me is my 1000th post]

m-s-dhoni-the-untold-story

M S Dhoni. The Untold story.

So what would this “untold story” be I wondered, as I sank into my seat at AMC Barrington, in a surprisingly packed auditorium on a Sunday afternoon.

Was I expecting untold stories about Rhiti sports, cricket enthusiasts, selection room shenanigans, bags of cement and Deepika Padukone?

Of course not. A biopic of a sportsman who is not just alive but also playing the game isn’t going to lift the hood and show us the gunk in the engine.Just not going to happen. That too in India, where slapping of defamation and sentiment-hurting lawsuits is a cottage industry. And to be honest, cinematic biographies of heroes, even the most Oscars-hogging of them and I am talking Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, rarely rise above being hagiographies, maybe not to the level of MSG Messenger of God, but pretty close.

So no. I was not expecting dark revelations. Not even something lightly gray like why he wouldn’t trust Ambati Rayadu with the strike.

As far as I could tell, “the untold story” was a tag line. Like Sultan of Delhi: Ascension.

But as the closing credits rolled, to a thunderous standing applause the like of which I have never seen in an US theater, I could say I was pleasantly surprised.

There was an untold story there. Actually two, if you think about it.

It takes a village to raise a child, they say, and in this case it takes a small town to make a legend. Very cleverly, Neeraj Pande focuses not just on Dhoni but also his surroundings, the motley group of friends who believe in his ability, failed cricketers, his parents, his first coach, his boss at Indian Railways, his fellow ticket-checkers, and Ranchi and Kharagpur. This is where the film is most successful—in its authentic portrayal of Tier 2 city-life, a world of government quarters, half-dried small-town stadiums, busy platforms, dingy staff accommodation, and small middle-class ambitions. The spotlight wisely is kept away from cricket, we don’t even see Dhoni becoming the captain, and that’s what prevents Dhoni from becoming a yawn-inducing litany of scorecards, or the cinematic version of Boria Majumdar’s Bible.

Instead the drama, and it is great drama, lies in the struggle within, of an extra-ordinary man trying to break free off the tyranny of low middle-class expectations. In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Dhoni sits hunched over on a bench at Kharagpur, wearing his ticket-checker’s uniform. He is facing a departmental inquiry for chronic absenteeism. People he played with like Yuvraj and Kaif are already bona fide international stars, and he is still spending his life shuttling between two trains and collecting money from the ticketless while practicing cricket on the side. The noose of irrelevant anonymity, a lifetime of playing inconsequential Ranji trophy games in empty stadiums, is tightening around his neck, and he knows it. Then a train stops in front of him. He looks up and he hears his name chanted, in unison, by a million voices. He hesitates, looks around, runs out into the pouring rain, and steps into a compartment, and as the train chugs out, he looks back at the life and the job and the future that he just left for good.

This is an extraordinarily powerful cinematic sequence, even though I am sure it is totally made up.

But then again, if you just wanted fact, there is Statsguru.

Or, and I can do this all day, Boria Majumdar as a biographer.

The film isn’t this excellent throughout. It flags, in the romantic sequences mostly, though one does understand that it is difficult to sell a film without some of that, and, at several places, it walks the line of the ridiculous where Sushant Singh Rajput’s face is superposed, giving the film an EA Cricket 2007 look and feel. What saves Dhoni: The Untold Story throughout is Neeraj Pandey’s ability to bring it back, just when it seems like the asking rate is going a bit too high.

Which brings me to the other untold story.

At one stage, one of Dhoni’s earliest believers, a proprietor of a local sport’s good shop, is asked “Who is Dhoni to you? Why do you keep speaking for him?” to which he says, “I played cricket but I never had the talent. Through him, I can be what I can never be.”

That, to me, is the film capturing perfectly the crux of our relationship with our sports idols.

This is why we are so invested in the success of people who are strangers, and this is why we feel so let down by their failures. We live through them, without realizing it. They breathe our fantasies, of walking into a stadium of thousands and winning the World Cup, fantasies which we can never realize, because we are not good enough, because we cannot take the risk, because we know, deep inside, we won’t be able to get there.

But some people do. They do get there.

These are special people.

Their dreams do not vanish when they wake. For it is their very dreams that keep them awake.

People like MS Dhoni.

Which is why when in the end, he sends Nuwan Kulasekara into the stands, his gaze following the trajectory of the ball, in a sequence that goosebumps even the most jaded of us, no matter how many times we have seen it before, it becomes a moment of fulfillment, our eyes moisten, and we stand up as one and applaud, because for one fleeting second, we are there, without quite understanding it, the imaginary hero of our own little untold story.

Yes. The film does live up to its billing.

That it does.


Update: My next book “Sultan of Delhi: Ascension” is now available on Kindle, for all regions outside the Indian sub-continent.

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “M S Dhoni: The Untold Story—the Review

  1. so well written! even more excited about the movie now. just one thing: it was nuwan kulasekara he hit for the cup winning six though, not perera.

  2. And with this post and the last couple of them, even GreatBong is back “just when it seemed like the asking rate was going a bit too high”

  3. awsm Movie
    but if the movie will be made on virat
    it would be not motivational movie
    I m 1000% sure about th at

  4. I saw whole bunch of greys…like Dhoni keeps khunas (panga) on people (the “village” people ) that stood in his way but also intensely loyal to others who helped him (e.g.watch the how railway folks are never featured later in the movie because someone there set inquiry on him; not even the supportive boss at railway is featured again and shown only as caricature). Girls are kept because they are lucky for him but even then he is commitment phobic. Then he gives cold shoulders to everyone else who might be ‘hero’ for the nation…be it yuvi or sachin, for he learns his lesson early on what happens to his and others game when they are in awe. So there is plenty “grey” in the movie.
    For non-cricket-knowing folks, the movie was still a delight. All the detailing that was done was simply fab. The drying mirchi, the fish buying, the dialogues (ball pakad rahe ho ya machli), the humor…the only boring-slow parts were when there is romance.

  5. You are at your best when it is movies and cricket and if its a movie about a cricketer, it has to be one of your best ever pieces to adorn your blog. And it really is. Fabulous write up sir and on the same very note, will share it with the peers and celebrate the success of this post as if its my own..

  6. Mirziya:
    Remember our childhood days?? When we would underline all important things in the textbook to “rattafy” for exams? By the time exam came, the whole book had underline. Well ROPM’s mirzya is like that heavily underlined book. How do you heavily underline a book in movie parlance pray? Well, you SLOW-MO it!!! I am not F#$King kidding here. That is wtf in the movie, EVERYTHING important is slo-moed creating unnecessarily a LONG movie which doesn’t have much of a screenplay. Moving on the screenplay: it is threadbare. Nothing much to discuss. Characterization is so pathetic that the hero comes out looking pathetic. Remember Amitabh is VVC’s Eklavya? People were angry to show Amitji bending and all…still in that movie, he is a hero…even gives his sperm to the queen and thereby producing next generation of royalty (Saif). Per iss philim mai aisa kuch nahi hua, so the hero is very lame and comes out looking juvenile and stupid (runs away in desrt without any plan as such). The usual masala motions are used but VERY badly. So much so that we fell of the chair laughing in one scne with Art Malik and the hero scene (not saying much to not ruin it for you). This was a poor vehicle launch for poor Harsh. He looks as constipated, humorless in the movie as he does in all his interviews. Both the hero and heroine don’t have a good dialogue delivery +poor voice quality. Saiyami though is gorgeous and has killer cheek bones. In the historical segment, everyone has greek god looks by which I mean everyone is wearing blue-grey contact lenses and all Saiyami’s brothers/relations are foreigners, maybe ROPM believes in Aryan invasion theory and it is his way of showing finger to historians. The best parts of the movie are already in the trailer so no need to watch it on big screen. The locations, the costumes, the detailing are the highlights of the movie (I am being nice now). I wish I could say this movie in bhansali style is poetry on screen or has strong peripheral characters to watch for like M.S. Dhoni movie, but alas I cannot say that (Bhansali is bhansali, can be copied but original is still the best). The best acting in the movie is that of the Prince (even though director did his best to bloch everyone’s acting due to his passion with slo-mo) and I think he will go long ways

  7. “because for one fleeting second, we are there, without quite understanding it, the imaginary hero of our own little untold story.”

    so brilliantly written; after reading the last para, had to go to youtube to watch that shot again…and it still gave goosebumps and moist eyes…and the memories of that day are still so fresh…

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