I saw MS Dhoni: the Untold Story! My first opening night movie since Akira! It was so nice to be back in a crowded theater with whistles and crying kids and all the other good things.
I went into this purposefully unspoiled. Like, I didn’t wiki Dhoni in advance or ask anyone about him or anything. All I knew going in was that he played Cricket, and had experimental hair. Both of which facts were represented in this film!
But there was also a bunch of other stuff which was probably slightly more confusing to me than it was intended to be, since I think the filmmakers expected most of the audience to come in with an encyclopedic knowledge of Dhoni’s life. To be fair, most of the audience members with me did in fact have such a knowledge. There were cheers, there were whistles, there was applause! And it wasn’t for Sushant (although he did a good job), it was for the whole Dhoni ethos! The jersey, the number, the famous games and famous hobbies and famous all this other stuff that I didn’t know about. So, they were enjoying the movie in a whole other way than I was. I was enjoying it as an unfolding mystery and drama with no idea what would happen next!
Although, there were some bits that no one knew how they would unfold, because the filmmakers made them up entirely! Why do they keep making up romances in these biopics? Why not just tell the real story? Why add all this drama? Although at least this one doesn’t make up quite as many romances as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which had not one, not two, but THREE! Three made up romances!!!! And the actual woman he married was nowhere in site!
Part of this is because of the kind of odd pacing. This is the “untold story”, after all, so they have to put in all the boring bits that lead to the exciting bits we all know about. That part was actually my favorite part, showing all the drudgery that lead to his success, the dedication and patience and practice, and all that stuff. But then once he finally gets through it all to the other side, and is put on the Indian team, well, we all kind of know it works out! I mean, the opening of the movie is the last few minutes of the 2011 World Cup match! So, after a whole first half of misery and obstacles, suddenly there is a second half of no obstacles and happiness at all times. Which doesn’t really work, so they randomly through in a couple of romances to give some kind of conflict to the second half.
But I would have liked the movie better if they’d kept out the romance, or rather, kept the “real” romance. According to wikipedia, he married someone he’d known since school days. I would have loved it if the romance had been like the rest of the movie, if it had been about patience and effort and endurance and waiting until it all fell into place. If she had been in the background off and on the whole time, and if their romance had been more about a slow coming together and coming into their own, just like Dhoni’s journey was in general, instead of some filmi thing with songs and all that. I also would have liked the movie better if they had included a cameo from Bipasha Basu, apparently Dhoni’s friend in real life, doing a huge item song for the wedding party. Of all sad words of tongue and pen….
But besides my little complaint about how the romances were needlessly dramatic, I really liked it! Like, really really liked it! Sushant was great! His character is supposed to be so internal and restrained and never letting others see how he feels, which is really hard for an actor to play! Because of course, we in the audience have to know how he feels. And Sushant nails that, little moments and postures and so on to let us know what he is feeling, even if he never fully opens up to anyone onscreen.
He also does a great job just generally moving and looking like an athlete. And, presumably, specifically like Dhoni. I wouldn’t know because, as previously mentioned, I know nothing about Cricket. But Sushant does a good job with a sort of constant awareness of his body and movement in a very focused way, not like it’s “fun”, but like it’s an intellectual challenge to him to figure out the best way to accomplish a motion.
Most of all, I was super impressed with Sushant’s ability to really hold the movie. This is a big role, and a big film, with lots of moving pieces over years and years and multiple plots and settings and so on and so on. And Sushant pulls it all together! He believably ages from 18 to 30, and from a boy in Ranchi living with his parents, to a 30 year old living in a mansion he bought for his parents.
It makes me excited to see what he does next, which is apparently a light rom-com with Kriti Sanam, directed by Dinesh Vijan, a producer making his first movie as a director. Hmm. I suppose it could be a surprise hit, but none of these things make me terrible excited for it.
The rest of the cast was mostly a murderer’s row of character actors, all of them excellent. Anupam Kehr fought through his terrible terrible terrible wigs to turn in a really touching performance as a supportive father. Bhoomika Chawla was great playing, essentially, the Divya Dutta role from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. And Kumud Mehra was there too, because he always is! Oh, and Rajesh Sharma, who was also in Azhar! In a very different part.
The movie was also, generally, just very very well-made. It looks good, it feels authentic, it’s everything Azhar wasn’t. Well, except for the CGI face morph thing. That was weeeeeeiiiirrrrrd. I understand why they did it for the real footage from the matches, I guess, although I think just using distant shots would have worked as well. But the really really bad part is when they tried to squeeze Sushant’s face onto a 14 year old’s body for his school matches. It wasn’t good.
Also not great: Sushant’s wigs. Although, if even someone who knows as little about Dhoni as I do knows about his hair, I can understand why they felt they needed to keep it.