'Dhoni' Sushant Singh Rajput was a Sachin Tendulkar fan

In a candid chat with, the actor said that Neeraj Pandey hadn’t seen any of his films when he cast him in the Dhoni biopic.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Keyur Seta

Sushant Singh Rajput is geared up for the most important film of his life – M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story. Playing a living personality isn’t something that happens often. In a friendly chat with, the actor reveals the challenges he underwent and his manner of preparation for the biopic on cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni. 

Director Neeraj Pandey had said he couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Mahendra Singh Dhoni...
He was stating the truth. He always speaks the truth (smiles). Interestingly, when he met me for the first time, he hadn’t seen any of my film. We met only for 20 minutes. In those 20 minutes, I don’t know what he saw that he was so convinced. It feels good when he says during film promotions that nobody else could have played the role. His intuition proved to be right. 

It must have been very challenging to play Dhoni...
It is challenging. Such challenges create excitement. Few things you know, few things you don’t. You do something to know things you don’t. This is what forces you to sleep 10 minutes late at night and wake up five minutes early. I have been a fan of Dhoni since years. But I didn’t know why he was like that and what he thought. It wouldn’t have been a better opportunity for me to find it. I always loved watching cricket. My sister was a professional cricketer. But I was never able to play professionally and was never selected even in my school team. But here was a chance for me to play with the best kit and best coach for hours.

There must have been a lot of pressure. 
Not at all. I am a very selfish actor. While reading a script, preparing and shooting, I only think about myself as to how much will I enjoy it. But when the film is completed and is ready for release, like it is right now, I think about other things. 

How did you learn the finer nuances of Dhoni?
You know well that I am not Dhoni. Still you will spend money to watch the film. You will say, at least make me believe that this person is Dhoni; at least don’t shock me by messing it up. The most important task for an actor is to convince people into believing that I am someone else. While playing fictional characters, you won’t be able to make out so we are safe. But in this case, Dhoni is popular. So it was necessary for me to match his way of playing, walking and other mannerisms. It would also have been possible that I acted and batted well, but wasn’t convincing if I don’t remind you of Dhoni. 

What cricket training did you undergo?
It takes long for one to learn cricket, so it took me a year to prepare. I didn’t want to think about Dhoni’s mannerisms and nuances while shooting; I just wanted to concentrate on one particular scene. Hence, it was necessary for me to pick such things subconsciously. And we subconsciously learn only when we repeat few things for a certain period of time. For the first 2-4 months, I only used to watch Dhoni’s videos. I saw 700-1,000 interviews of his again and again. After few months, people used to tell me that I have some similarity with Dhoni. So I realised I am on the right track. There was no similarity before (laughs).  

I am 29 years old but I was trained as if I am 14. The body reacts differently at this age. And apart from batting, I also had to learn wicket-keeping. The ball travels to you in 0.6 seconds. I had a good coach like Kiran More. He had also trained Dhoni so he knows his style. Analysts from Ranji Trophy provided me seven frames of Dhoni’s one particular shot. I had to play that one shot 200-300 times daily for three days. 

What are the things you came to know about Dhoni during research that people are unaware about?
You will find events from his life on Google. Everything's available. But there is no information on why he is the way he is and what he thought before and after an event. You will see this in the film. 

Who has been your favourite crickter?
Till my 10th standard, it was Sachin Tendulkar. After returning from school, the first question I used to ask was whether Sachin was still playing; I didn’t ask whether India is winning. During my first year in college in 2004, I skipped my mid-semester exams to watch India-Pakistan match at a snooker joint. I saw Dhoni with long hair and he scored 140 runs. It seemed as if he knew from the beginning that he will be scoring 140. From that moment, till today I am his big admirer. I also got a chance to click a picture with him in 2006. I had faced a lot of difficulties then. 

Don’t you think cricket has become too commercialised these days?
There is nothing wrong in this. When we make a good film, we think as to how we can earn the maximum profit. Anything that is popular will have money around it. If more people watch, money will be generated. And this should happen. We are lagging behind in other sports because there is no monetisation around it. If there is monetisation around other sports, it will start thriving; like it is happening with Kabaddi these days.