When the news of a film on the life of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni first came out my reaction was how would this make for a compelling biopic? A cursory look would suggest a rather unremarkable life, devoid of great drama, conflict or overcoming of insurmountable odds to reach the pinnacle of one’s profession. After watching the film – which at three hours long feels like you have just sat through a T20 match – my opinion has not changed. M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story is a disappointing, unsurprising, protracted hagiography produced by Dhoni’s own company. In this scenario, writer-director Neeraj Pandey dutifully crafts a reverential homage to the cricketer, painting it in celebratory colours, rubbing out all shades of grey.
A sports writer who also watched the film believes that this is Dhoni’s homage to his supporters, his expression of public gratitude to his family, friends, coaches and mentors who propped him up in his early days as a student and struggler in Ranchi, a small town boy with big dreams.
These scenes of his younger days is fun largely thanks to the myriad characters surrounding him – his school cricket coach (Rajesh Sharma), his first professional mentor (Kumud Mishra), his father (Anupam Kher), sister (Bhumika Chawla) and his best friends, among them the boy who teaches Dhoni what has become his trademark helicopter shot. This reveal is one of the moments of note, because these are exactly the kind of insights one hoped for. Instead one gets repetitive scenes of his inability to get a break or to impress the selectors or to ditch his dead-end life as a TC (ticket collector).
Collaborating with Fox Star studios has ensured access to real footage of matches and this certainly adds a solid layer of authenticity with some respectable computer graphics as Sushant Singh Rajput’s head is morphed onto MSD’s body. Rajput brings his A-game to the part, astutely picking up nuances of Dhoni’s physical manner as well as his affable charm. But one misses scenes of camaraderie in the locker-room and some tangible insights into the team dynamics. There are some references to team selection and media focus on rivalries but it’s inadequate. The only cricketer given some shape and regard is Yuvraj Singh (HERRYTangri is perfectly cast).
Pandey’s focus is on pandering to the fanboys and indulgently presenting a story that might motivate and inspire other youngsters to follow their dreams and take chances in life. The two love stories (Disha Patani, Kiara Advani) are like tea breaks that interrupt the momentum of the narrative with pretty and flawless girls who are bowled over by Dhoni’s charm (and maybe a little by his fame).
Besides one moment of drama and heartbreak, and several disappointments at not making the grade, Dhoni’s life is not exciting enough for cinema even though as a cricketer he’s clearly as sharp on the field as off it. If this film is watchable at all it’s mostly due to Rajput completely getting into the skin of his character – gloves, bat, hairstyles and all.