The protagonist of Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: An Untold Story is a high-achieving and talented cricketer, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose journey from the small-town Ranchi to the top of Indian cricket forms the plot of the film.
On the surface, the journey is smooth. Dhoni is loved and nurtured by everyone, right from his childhood days. He finds a job as soon as he enters his twenties, finds the perfect girl(s), gets into Indian cricket team, scores many centuries, and is elevated to the position of Captain. The man has a rare gift of mental toughness and composure that helps him beat all the odds on the way to victory.
Scratch that feel-good surface, and there’s nothing much.
The film tends to resemble a Wikipedia profile in which director Neeraj Pandey has tossed in some drama, songs, and footage of real-life stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, and Virendar Sehwag. And, of course, highlights from the World Cup. It has every shortcoming of a biopic made with the happy cooperation of the subject. The story is sanitised to portray Dhoni as the perfect man who never erred.
In fact, if it seems like he made a mistake, the film pulls out a justification.
The irony is that there is nothing untold about the film’s story, no insight into Dhoni’s persona. Great films have an arc: an uncertainty or a hard-to-solve complication. Here, Dhoni the boy is Dhoni the man.
Was he always so confident and composed? (In the film, even as a little boy, Dhoni is so sure about everything.) Was he happy living in a crammed two-bedroom flat where a swing of his cricket bat could cause a ruckus? Why does his sister (It’s good to see you again, Bhumika Chawla!) always have a smile on her face? Wasn’t he insecure at all about his fitness, game, or team-building skills ever?
The film is silent.
The characters, all of them, are uni-dimensional and predictable. The girls Dhoni falls in love with are completely supportive of his decisions, even though he spends little time with them. When they start on the frightening “I don’t get to see you enough” conversation, Dhoni says, “I have to do this for my country.”
And the wide smiles are back.
There are a few moments when the drama overcomes the overt blandness of the narrative. A shot of young Dhoni looking at a fully-lit playground from the balcony of his house at night. The boy is wide-eyed, as if in a trance. Does he realise that this is a vision from the future? In another scene, he walks up to Sachin Tendulkar for an autograph. Though we don’t see Sachin on screen, the scene makes our heart race.
Another remarkable scene is when Dhoni calls his father from Pakistan, where the team has just won a match. “Are you happy, dad?” asks the young man. There is no corny background music, and it works. “I am happy to have been proved wrong,” says the father, who had doubts about his cricket-crazy son’s career decisions.
The background score is laudably restrained. Every time Dhoni picks up the bat, we aren’t subjected to motivational music. The film’s cinematography too is focused on the protagonist’s journey, not on putting up a show of lights.
The lead male actors do a fantastic job. Sushant Singh Rajput is effortless as the shy, calm, and confident cricketer. Anupam Kher’s brilliant performance lends character to an otherwise ordinary role: the middle-class Indian father who thinks it’s his right to chalk out the perfect career plan for his children.
Time and again, the movie hall bursts into claps and cheers. That’s how much the film appeals to Dhoni’s fans. When Sushant Singh recreates Dhoni’s marvellous playing style on screen, they are thrilled. When the cinematic version of their icon coyly asks Sakshi, his future wife, on a date for the first time, they love it.
But for the ordinary movie-goer, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story has little to offer. The lack of struggle in Dhoni’s straitlaced life makes it dull. In one scene, he scolds his friend for having a beer. “Is that what you want?” the upright icon asks. A desperation is evident: to draw up the perfect role model for young cricket fans. One so perfect that the scene might as well be a page from an Amar Chitra Katha magazine.
The MS Dhoni: An Untold Story review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.