A biopic is a slippery slope: it’s not about cherrypicking only the pretty or the ugly parts. It’s about cherrypicking the most wholesome attributes that make for an honest character study.
Neeraj Pandey goes ambitious with this one. The biopic starts out strong but teeters to reveal itself as part-hagiography in the second half. Producer credit’s MS Dhoni’s after all.
It’s important to prod the questions a biopic explores in a character study. Who is Dhoni as a man under pressure? Who is he as a son? Who is he as a lover? The movie nails the lover, the man under pressure (but not too much) and makes him the spotless hero, but it’s in ignoring the tough questions that it misses the ball.
At the start, it’s a rags to riches story with nuance. For a small town boy from Ranchi, it’s clear the bumps on the road are going to be hard for Dhoni despite being projected as a natural at the game. The film makes very good points about life and sporting at large: how chance plays a big part in his rusty beginnings and the politics at its heart.
The middle-class family, led by Anupam Kher as Paan Singh Dhoni, barely makes ends meet, but the film acknowledges them and his friends as a major support system.
There’s a moment of frustration when his friends note that while Yuvaraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik make it big, Dhoni who’s in the same league as them, is still earning his bread as a ticket examiner in the Railways.
But, and if it’s true to who Dhoni really is, how he processes the anguish and anger is one of the most fascinating moments in the film.
However, when the road smoothens out for Dhoni, the character, a lot of loose ends spill out in the second half. We’re transported to clichéd Bollywood love and cheery shouts of “Dhoni, Dhoni”. The second romance with his wife Sakshi is quite a drag, with a song hastily fit in. We see him as the heartthrob, the teetotaller and the media-shy cricketer with endorsement shoots intermittently placed.
The film features important matches in Dhoni’s career from 1998 to the 2011 World Cup – the milestone ones getting more focus, and the losses receiving the touch-and-go treatment.
There’s a glimpse of politics with the BCCI in 2008 when he asks three fielders to be replaced by younger players – which works in his favour. But that’s it. There’s no question that in real life, the game is rife with it, but it’s a pretty biopic, and any sign of grittiness or politics appears to have been swept under the carpet.
In the 1999 Cooch Behar trophy, he locks eyes with Yuvraj Singh from the opposing team. There’s palpable tension – but it halts to an abrupt end. There’s nothing about his relationships with the other players. Who was Dhoni the team member? Who was he as a strategist? These key questions remain unanswered.
It’s the toughest role yet for Sushant Singh Rajput in his nascent career, and he rises to the occasion. The actor nails the calm, stubborn and vulnerable Dhoni. He’s reportedly spent over 300 takes getting his fielding right, and it pays off splendidly. Rajput’s quite a treat to watch.
Bhumika Chawla as Dhoni’s sister, Kiara Advani as his wife Sakshi, and Disha Patani as his ex-girlfriend Priyanka, play their parts well, though there’s not much substance to their roles. The narrative is clean and flows seamlessly although it leaves much to be desired.
Editing and graphics are top notch – sifting through years of footage and Photoshopping Sushant’s face on Dhoni’s is no easy feat. The music is mostly forgettable, but "Besabriya" lends itself to the movie well.
Save Sushant's brilliant performance in a role of a lifetime, great characterisation up to a point, and a clean narrative structure – “MS Dhoni: The Untold Story” is all sparkle and little grit.