Maidaan Movie Review: Mein? Done, bhai!

11 April,2024 07:18 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Mayank Shekhar

What’s a movie, if not a dream, no? Maidaan is similarly stunning to look at. Unsure about IMAX, that the film is also available in, the aesthetics certainly match the size of the big screen

A still from Maidaan

U/A: Sports, drama
Dir: Amit Ravindernath Sharma
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Gajraj Rao
Rating: 2/5

I guess we know why people say, "Shot like a dream," for a film that's shot well. What's a movie, if not a dream, no? Maidaan is similarly stunning to look at. Unsure about IMAX, that the film is also available in, the aesthetics certainly match the size of the big screen.

Especially once you consider that it's a movie about sports, after all - shooting and cutting/editing of which is a specialised skill in itself. Soccer on TV doesn't look the same. Because it's relayed live. This is more patiently, painstakingly picturised.

Whether it's the dribbling and drubbing between the legs, or the backshot/silhouette of the Indian football team entering the field/maidaan, including stock footage, over three Olympics and an Asian Games, between 1950s and early '60s.

What's the goal behind all of this? At the centre of this production design is the hero, Ajay Devgn, who's made being understated into such an underrated art-form, that we still don't quite appreciate how quietly he pulls off varied mainstream roles. Even as his character, at one point, becomes critically ill in this movie. This performance will earn him critical acclaim.

Although he's literally been handed one prop throughout the pic, which is the cancer stick between his lips, that he puffs all along, while coughing, wheezing, bleeding…

The statutory warning of the cigarette being injurious to health is, of course, perennially displayed on the screen. Making no difference to the life of this determined ‘smokeaholic'. Poof!

Pardon the interpretation, the only pressing point of this pic that I could sense is the same that Akshay Kumar makes to his friend Nandu, before every movie show - smoking kills. Maidaan is the longest public-service ad, ever, in that regard!

Since we can see what's destroying the hero - surely the cancer can't be the main villain. That, in fact, is a strange creature, with actor Gajraj Rao, wonderfully morphed into the human form.

This gentleman is India's best sports journalist, plus publisher plus editor, plus reporter, who can "make and break governments" - blessed with a passion for football.

Only that this fellow incessantly can't stand the sight of the Indian soccer team even competing at top global events, let alone winning, or performing well.

He's got an even lowlier lackey (Rudranil Ghosh), heading the football federation. Between these two blokes, you've got the corniest antagonists known to movies/mankind.

Whereas the villain could simply be the circumstance. Which is that Indians have never traditionally been great at world-class football. But they came close to glory of sorts - over the years that the national team had a coach named Syed Abdul Rahim.

Maidaan is hitherto undiscovered Rahim's biopic, in a sense. He was from Hyderabad. Perhaps that's why Devgn in this lead role, I felt, somewhat giving off a Mohd. Azharuddin vibe.

I'm not presently qualified to fact-check this film. The series of larger events certainly seem researched, even if possibly exaggerated.

Not that sticking to facts is any measure of a good movie. Take the fabulous Chak De! India (2007), for instance. It was based on the life of former goalkeeper and legendary hockey coach, Mir Ranjan Negi - turned into a Muslim protagonist, Kabir Khan, in the movie, whose patriotism gets questioned in lieu of his religion.

That was a central conflict in Chak De! Which obviously had nothing to do with Negi's own life. But it made for a legit story.

In fact, given the subject for big-budget Bollywood, Maidaan will inevitably get benchmarked against Chak De. Or why that was such a superior film. The reasons are too obvious. Chak De, tightly scripted by Jaideep Sahni, stuck to the team players, and their coach.

This one's got a coach, and hardly the team to focus on. But so much of unrelated randomness going on, all through, that it feels like a full federation wrote this film. It did.

Just count the names on its writing credit on Wikipedia, besides the director Amit Ravindernath Sharma (Tevar, Badhaai Ho) himself: Saiwyn Quadras, Aman Rai, Atul Shahi, Ritesh Shah, Sidhant Mago, Akash Chawla, Arunava Joy Sengupta.

Maybe that's the issue. Imagine handpicking such fine faces to reprise India's greatest football stars, the likes of PK Banerjee, Neville D'Souza, Chuni Goswami - but hardly, if ever, delving into their lives, let alone motivations.

Concentrating instead on two bumbling Bengalis for salt-and-pepper villains, indulging in gondogol and goal-maal, over rosogolla and singhara. Stretching the story to over 180 minutes still. At some point after half-time of Maidaan, I could hear myself go, "Okay then. I'm done."

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