MS Dhoni: The Untold Story is like a calendar of events from the life of India’s most successful cricket captain. This happened, that happened, this person helped him, that person encouraged him, he won this match, he fell in love with that girl. It’s really a hagiography. Never an insightful character study of a fascinating and largely impenetrable personality. If you’ve always wondered what lies beneath Dhoni’s calm veneer, or what’s going on in his head when the chips are down, be warned this film doesn’t answer those questions.
Which is not to say that it doesn’t work. Special 26 director Neeraj Pandey’s film is a rousing drama. Mostly because our protagonist’s journey from a small-town boy with big dreams to India’s star wicketkeeper-batsman is an inspiring one.
Pandey’s recreation of life in small-town India feels authentic, as do his characters. The early portions, in particular, are pure gold. A young Mahi is ‘discovered’ on the school football field by the cricket coach (Rajesh Sharma), who spots his potential. His father (Anupam Kher) insists that he focus on his studies, because a job will help him more than sports. Yet, he finds supporters in his mother and sister, and a bunch of loyal friends who believe in him. Before long, “Mahi maar raha hai” becomes a common refrain in his native Ranchi as he repeatedly whacks the ball out of sight, enthralling the growing crowd, and graduating to bigger things.
Sushant Singh Rajput is riveting as Dhoni; he’s got the body language and the cricket down pat. He makes the character’s frustration palpable, as you watch him trapped in a job as a railway ticket collector in Kharagpur. He makes you root for him as he pursues his goal single-mindedly, refusing to be swept away by small successes or discouraged by obstacles and failures.
It’s a terrific performance and the key to staying invested in the film even when it trudges down a frankly boring and predictable path in its second half. There are two romances and they come in quick succession (one with Disha Patani’s Priyanka, the other with Kiara Advani’s Saakshi), but these relationships offer little by way of a glimpse under Dhoni’s inscrutable surface. Neither do we get a sense of his strategy as Team India’s captain, or his relationships with the other players. It’s a shame Pandey never really addresses the controversies associated with Dhoni (barring a fleeting mention of two), or any of the brickbats that came his way, choosing instead to stick to a wholly reverential portrait.
Clocking in at nearly 3 hours and 10 minutes, the film is overlong and far from perfect. But climaxing with Dhoni’s incredible performance in the 2011 World Cup, Pandey pushes all the right buttons and leaves you, your chest swelling with pride.
So even though your head knows this is far from a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all biopic, your heart is happy to settle. Much of the credit for that must go to the finely executed cricket scenes, and to the film’s terrific ensemble of actors led by Sushant Singh Rajput who does some of his best work here.
I’m going with three out of five for MS Dhoni: The Untold Story.

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