First thing you notice about M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story is its welcome decision to put out its title not just in English but also in chaste Hindi (The Untold Story becomes ‘Ek Ankahi Kahani’) and Urdu. It is quite strange and somewhat sad that most Hindi films these days do not bother to put up a title in Hindi, seeming to have forgotten that they are ‘Hindi’ films at first place.
Therefore, by putting out its title in both Hindi and Urdu, M.S. Dhoni and director Neeraj Pandey make it amply clear that hardcore Indian mass is their playing ground. Brand Mahendra Singh Dhoni is still huge in India – and we are not just talking about cricketing loving junta. The recognition and recall value of Dhoni’s face is next to no other sportsperson in the country and is in fact, and arguably so, at par with Sachin Tendulkar.
With this initial intent well-exhibited, M.S. Dhoni unfolds on expected lines and stays true to its core massy self. Neeraj Pandey manages to hold your attention through most of the film’s marathon runtime (more than 180 minutes), what if he mostly comes up with a fanboy account and plays it so safe as if he was making a biopic on the great Rahul Dravid’s batting technique.
The film stays well clear of all the controversial aspects of Dhoni’s life, be it the CSK fiasco where his name came up (briefly) in spot fixing allegations or his relationship with stalwarts of the team like Sachin, Sourav, Sehwag and Dravid. Pandey gives us a glimpse of what he could have achieved if he had not played it ultra-safe – through a small but significant sequence where Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh’s (Herry Tangri, the actor playing Yuvraj is brilliant) lives cross.
But, you also got to give benefit of doubt to Neeraj Pandey and team because it is not easy to make a biopic on the life of a sports icon who is still very much active and is in fact in a working relationship with the parent sporting body. There is no way Dhoni would have allowed Pandey to ‘cross the line’ and his strong support for the project must have come at this bare minimum cost. The film also does not fail to pay its tributes to the BCCI which has provided it with extensive footage of cricket matches, including the 2011 world cup final. There is one particularly hilarious scene where a Jagmohan Dalmia lookalike directs his staff to look out for ‘talent’ from smaller towns across India almost in a prophetic fashion.
This almost religious, fanboy tone of M.S. Dhoni aside, the film does have an innate simplicity and honesty about it that should blur the lines of fans and non-fans. Cleverly mounted at 2011 World Cup final as its crescendo, the film traces the rags to riches story of a small-town boy who goes on to win 2 world cups for India. Interestingly, it is not the matches that Dhoni plays and wins for India that makes you root for him (perhaps because we have already seen those matches), it is the account of Dhoni’s pre-cricketing days that leaves you mighty impressed. Neeraj Pandey exhibits directorial finesse and a great sensibility for capturing small-town antics as he takes you in the pocket-size world of the young Dhoni, his lower-middle class family, bunch of friends, initial mentors and professional stopovers before ‘Mahi’ storms the big stage.
The depiction of Ranchi milieu and the typical Bihari middle-class values are the highpoints of M.S. Dhoni. You are seamlessly drawn in the small world of the Dhonis as they try to come to terms with the prospect of their son taking up sports as a full-time career option. In Dhoni’s journey from Ranchi to Kharagpur, there are numerous anecdotes that bring a big smile on your face. And not to mention, the coincidental, brilliant humor that arises every time the characters break into typical Bihari one-liners and jibes.
Sushant Singh Rajput shines in the role of a lifetime that is bound to win him numerous accolades. He gets Dhoni’s body language and mannerisms perfectly and not for a moment you will complain about him ‘not being Dhoni’. From the trademark helicopter shot to the now-cut-short long locks, Sushant looks, feels and breathes Dhoni to the tee. The entire support battery of Dhoni, Anupam Kher as his father, Bhumika Chawla as his sister, Rajesh Sharma as his coach, is perfectly cast. Disha Patani as Dhoni’s first girlfriend and Kiara Advani as his wife make their presence felt in brief roles.
While the first half of the film flies past smoothly despite its length – largely thanks to a candid account of Dhoni’s younger days, the second half is excruciatingly long and uneven in comparison. Too much time is invested in making the Dhoni story arrive at the World Cup final point, plus both his romantic involvements are put together in this half making the film a little too mushy for its original , supposed taste. Also, while you completely root for the young boy as he patiently climbs the success ladder in the first half, you wish there was some insight into his mechanisms once he becomes all-powerful captain of the Indian team.
The director comfortably shoots and then mutes the mention of ‘top 3 cricketers’ who were dropped by Dhoni from the ODIs in 2008, making it look like a poor marketing tactic than a candid retelling of an important decision of Dhoni’s cricketing life. Little or no insights are given into the mind of supposedly the greatest Indian cricket captain as he charts his team’s way through to the World Cup glory. It is because of this extremely precautionary tone that the film’s second half almost seems like a PR exercise than a biopic.
But, overall M.S. Dhoni is a neat and nearly-honest account of Dhoni’s life that is smartly crafted to please the fans, keep the detractors quiet and give the Hindi filmdom that much-needed all-round entertainer. There are plenty of sweet, real-life touches that make the film very watchable what if you may feel that there should been two intervals. Or, they should have also shown ‘this’ and ‘that’.
Rating: *** (Good)