AMBITIOUS: Sushant Singh Rajput as Dhoni, who excelled with the bat and became arguably Indias greatest cricket captain.

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MS DHONI – THE UNTOLD STORY. Directed by Neeraj Pandey, with Sushant Singh Rajput, Anupam Kher, Bhumika Chawla, Rajesh Sharma, Disha Patani, Kiara Advani, Kumud Mishra. At Nu Metro, Canal Walk and Ster – Kinekor, Cavendish.

REVIEW: Mehboob Bawa

CLOCKING in at just over three hours this biopic of Indian cricketing legend Mahendra Singh Dhoni is overlong and far from perfect. But an outstanding performance by Sushant Singh Rajput as the title character and excellent support by a talented cast ensure that audiences will enjoy seeing out the full innings.

Director Neeraj Pandey, has had hits with the films A Wednesday and Special 26 and is no stranger telling hard-hitting stories uncovering corruption and political scandals. But here he toes a much softer line by romanticizing Dhoni’s life.

He and co–writer Dilip Jha hint at, but gloss over important and controversial aspects of the cricketer’s career which shaped the winning destiny of the Indian cricket team. Where he does score though is in the first half of the film, showing Dhoni’s initial introduction to cricket after starting out as a football player at school. It was his goalkeeping skills which were recognised by a teacher and cricket coach which led him to the position of wicket keeper.

Dhoni also excelled with the bat and became arguably India’s greatest cricket captain. There are some wonderful scenes between Dhoni and his father, a simple man who just wants his son to study and lead a better life than he had. It is his mother and sister who recognise that a normal life is not meant for Dhoni and he has bigger plans in his sights. His coaches and managers also see his potential and urge him on in his career. But he faces huge challenges on his journey to success, from having to work as ticket collector at a train station, while juggling cricket practice, as well as rushing from exams to tryouts for national teams.

Pandey expertly captures the angst of this young man in a small town and his quiet, determined nature in shaping his future. But it is Rajput who turns in a superb performance as Dhoni who keeps audiences riveted, despite the lagging pace in the second half.

Pandey loses the plot almost completely post intermission, when the focus falls on Dhoni’s relationships with the women in his life. It is an important part of his journey, but giving it the full Bollywood melodramatic treatment does it no favours.

Dhoni even gets a romantic song sequence shot in Cape Town, which looks good on screen, but doesn’t help the plot development. Cape Town is also used for a scene set in Australia, but seeing our cricket stadium and the Cape skyline us a dead giveaway and a real let down for filmmakers of this calibre.

The celebrated Indian actor Anupam Kher gives Dhoni’s father a quiet dignity, while it’s great to see the talented Bhumika Chawla, as Dhoni’s sister, back on screen again after a break of a few years. All the supporting cast acquit themselves well and give credibility to the film. Pandey also excels in showing the almost religious fervour which the Indian nation has for their cricketers and national team.

Dhoni’s support from his friends, many of whom live their life vicariously through their idol, and the lengths they will go to ensure that he is successful, is wonderful to witness.

The film opens with Dhoni entering the field at an important stage in the 2011 World Cup Finals, then goes into a flashback, before ending at that game. It’s no spoiler to say that India won their first World Cup in 28 years because of Dhoni’s brilliance. But those nostalgic scenes still create huge excitement and the excellent visual effects place Rajput firmly into the centre of the game along with the actual Indian cricket team.

While this is certainly not the untold story of a major cricketer as the title implies, it is a well-made film about a small-town boy who achieves his big dreams.