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Review — M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is caught out in the second half

Neeraj Pandey's biopic on one of Indian cricket's legendary captains is well structured, but a tad too fawning of its hero.

Shriram Iyengar

Film: M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story
Rating: 3/5

Cricket is a spectacle. Cinema is a spectacle. Neeraj Pandey's M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is the story, of an ordinary man who conquered the former, told in the latter medium. Biopics in Indian cinema tend to have hagiographic tendencies. Pandey's film promises to tell the hidden life of Dhoni, but spins a familiar yarn. It is a well made story of a fascinating individual, but tries too much by attempting to turn into a spectacle.

Sushant Singh Rajput fills the screen in his performance as MS Dhoni. His charm, derring-do, and absolute cool reflect the research and work put in by the team. Anupam Kher works in a decent performance as the strict-but-loving father whose hardwork inspires Dhoni. Bhumika Chawla plays the supporting sister with little conviction. But the first half is more about the people who helped Dhoni become Dhoni. Rajesh Sharma and Kumud Mishra deliver classy performances as the early mentors. It is Dhoni's friends who steal the show. Param, Chittu and Santosh are people you identify with in someone who supported your dream, and are brought to life with some excellent acting. 

The magic of the film lies in its construction of Dhoni's youth and journey from the small town of Ranchi to Kharagpur. We see Mahi face a roadblock at each step of his journey. We cheer for the underdog who refuses to accept anything less than his talent requires: a place in the Indian cricket team. We root for him and his friends as they find creative ways to get past the 'padhai-naukri' stereotype to help him pursue his dream of cricket. The efforts feel almost herculean, and sometimes impossible. It is here that Pandey's film feels most convincing and well constructed. The film works its way through the first half splendidly only to fall, like a tired batsman, in the second. 

It would have been perfect if the director could have managed to hold the attention of his audience in a similar way through the second half. Sadly, he doesn't. The script unravels at the very moment it should intensify. Two quick romances in quick succession ease up the building drama in the film. Disha Patani and Kiara Advani look pretty, but fail to add anything memorable. There are songs and dances which, as pleasant as they are, are unnecessary. The attempt to emphasise the tragedy of a death in Dhoni's life seems forced at times. The greater tragedy is the arrival of product placements in the film. From Finolex pipes to ExideLife insurance (bikes of every brand, TVS and Splendor, remain an understandable presence). In the midst of a suppossedly intense moment in the character's life, these feel superfluous. The director takes a laughable attempt at the intrigue of the selection process in the BCCI, but it lacks conviction. The muting of names and a quick solution leaves you unsatisfied. 

The result, allowing for a few interesting anecdotal incidents, is that the film skips too many things to appear a tad bit bland. In trying to turn Dhoni's life story into a film, the writers and the director have cherry picked incidents and events, trying to skirt over the blemishes of their hero. There is no thumbing of the nose at the establishment which hounded Dhoni's progress at his initial days, no critique of his performances or the personality, no insight into dressing room dramas. The film is filled with praise and hurrahs erected on a platform of emotional music to scale up the drama. 

Make no mistake. This film is about Dhoni, and Rajput carries it ably on his shoulders. His shots, walk, smile, and even the personality, seem apt for MSD. So much so that we might forgive his badly morphed face on the real time videos of Dhoni. (On second thoughts, let's not. They might want to rework on those VFX details better.) Harry Tangri as Yuvraj Singh is the only other notable cricketer to make an appearance. Their first meeting fills us with intrigue, but there is nothing in the film which builds up the relationship between two players who would be captain and vice captain in one of Indian cricket's glorious moments. Nor do Sachin Tendulkar or Saurav Ganguly make an appearance in the story.(Spoiler alert: To be fair, both of them do make an appearance). The presence of these mentors and contributors who were a part of the revolution led by Dhoni would have made for an interesting watch. Cricket is, after all, a team sport. Sadly, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is a one-man show. 

And the man himself makes an appearance in the film, and receives the biggest applause in the theatre. Dhoni remains one of the most charismatic names in Indian sports, and this film is a fawning tribute to him.

Pandey had the potential, and the ability, to craft the story of one of Indian sports' most phenomenal names. His airbrushing of the story leaves you with a sense of incompletion. Dhoni is transformed into a singing, dancing champion who bows to none. Yes, the story belongs to a champion who succeeded at the highest level, but it is also the story of an ordinary man who has failings. Pandey's film fails to show those failings. There is nothing in this story which has not been told before, although it is well told. 

Director: Neeraj Pandey 
Producers: Arun Pandey and Fox Star Studios 
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Bhumika Chawla, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani, Rajesh Sharma, Kumud Mishra
Runtime: 190 minutes