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Is the MS Dhoni biopic too much too soon?


Neeraj Pandey first announced the idea for a film on the current Indian cricket team's captain, MS Dhoni in 2014. Dhoni had just announced his retirement from the one-day format and was entering his twilight years. Two years hence, the film has almost been completed, and is entering its post production stage. 

Shriram Iyengar

Biopics are all the rage in cinema these days. Sanjay Dutt is set to have himself immortalised on film under close friend Raju Hirani's hand. Emraan Hashmi has taken up the task of playing the stylish and controversial Indian cricket captain, Mohammed Azharuddin. This follows actors like Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar having portrayed boxer Mary Kom and athlete Milkha Singh in previous years. Where biopics have always had a special place in Indian cinema, previous decades had seen films made on individuals who had already passed on, or at least, ended their career. Neeraj Pandey's MS Dhoni: The Untold Story(2016) and Tony D'Souza's Azhar (2016) are set to blow this theory out of the water. 

The star power and brand of MS Dhoni have brought with it a typhoon of interest about the film. Fawad Khan has been roped in to play Virat Kohli while John Abraham is playing Ishant Sharma. Sushant Singh Rajput has already set the social media abuzz with his copybook Dhoni act in the first look and trailer. Dhoni was part of a young Indian team that transitioned from being the leftover of the holy trinity of Sachin-Dravid-Laxman to assuming its own identity. From being an ambitious cricketer in an ordinary town far away from the buzz of Mumbai or Delhi, he achieved history by winning every trophy available in the cricketing world. In a way, the story of Dhoni is inextricable from the rise of other stars like Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, or Harbhajan Singh. These stars were not only close friends but also were a part of the Indian brigade that the captain built. Thus, it would be multiple biopics rolled into one. 

 

The medium of biopic works best when telling the audience an inspiring story about an unknown protagonist or the unknown story of an inspiring protagonist. In the case of Milkha Singh, there was the unknown story of the great athlete's past. Mary Kom was a sudden phenomenon and a female icon that evinced interest on a meteoric scale. MS Dhoni, on the other hand, has been studied, examined, dissected and criticised over the period of a decade, and plays a sport that is always the centre of any conversation across India. Every Indian, who has heard, thought, or watched cricket in recent years, is familiar with the stunning rise of a ticket collector from Jharkhand to the pinnacle of world sport. Also, Dhoni still a playing cricket captain. There is a risk that the filmmakers miss a turn or two when trying to capture his life. In a recent interview, Sushant Singh Rajput stated 'Why would it be early? I can make a film on a 7-year-old who’s done something really  extraordinary. So this doesn’t count. When we are telling a story about someone’s life, there has to be a length. And that length starts from point A to point B. And it cannot be a straight line between the two points, it has to be a graph. There’s something to tell and that’s why we are making the film.' 

In India, biographical and historical films often act as substitutes for history. As a culture, Indians have always trusted dramas and epics rather than historical documents. Generations of Indians grew up imagining Akbar to be embodied by the regal features and deep baritone of Prithviraj Kapoor. Nitish Bharadwaj, the actor who played Krishna in BR Chopra's teleserial Mahabharat, won an election simply on the basis of his popularity as the character. Azharuddin, though he shares a similar 'rags to riches' storyline, is tainted with the smear of match-fixing which shook the foundations of Indian cricket in the 90s. By trying to portray the man behind the controversy, Azhar's filmmakers are attempting to provide redemption to the former captain. By this standard, an approved biopic (and approved it is, for Dhoni has already sent the director an NOC) is the perfect way to counter any rumours and transform the legend of Dhoni into fact. Indian audiences are more likely to believe films than research materials.Neeraj Pandey's biopic on India's most successful cricket captain might seem early, but if done right it would be the perfect way to cement Dhoni's reputation in Indian cricket forever.