Maidaan review: Ajay Devgn is the soul of this stunningly-shot sports drama with a heart | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Maidaan review: Ajay Devgn is the soul of this stunningly-shot sports drama with a heart

Apr 09, 2024 04:09 PM IST

Maidaan review: Ajay Devgn brings gravitas and perfection to his football coach role in Amit Sharma's latest movie.

Maidaan review: A sportsperson's journey, a team's incredible victory or an unsung coach's story -- sports dramas, in most cases, manage to seamlessly blend adrenaline with emotions. The satisfaction and happiness I felt after watching cinematic brilliance of Chak De! India and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, that's exactly the feeling I got after watching the Ajay Devgn-starrer Maidaan. An in-depth and well-made biographical film, this Amit Sharma directorial celebrates the golden era of Indian football between 1950s and 60s, and sheds light on the remarkable contribution of coach Syed Abdul Rahim, who had only one goal in life - to form a winning team, and make Indian football shine on the global map. (Also read: Ajay Devgn's Maidaan to have only evening shows on April 10, wider release on April 11)

Maidaan review: Ajay Devgn in a still from the film. He plays a football coach in the movie.
Maidaan review: Ajay Devgn in a still from the film. He plays a football coach in the movie.

On multiple occasions, Maidaan follows the footsteps of sports dramas where Team India emerges as the underdog, and their unbelievable triumph, clinching a trophy or medal in the final few minutes of a live match, keeps you on the edge of your seats. Shah Rukh Khan's iconic 70-minute speech is replaced with Ajay's lecture on oneness where he tells his boys, 'match mein utarna 11, lekin dikhna ek'. Another scene in which Ajay visits the stadium a night before the finals and we see a closeup of his face as the water sprinklers prepare the ground for the next match, will definitely remind you of Chak De! India.

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Maidaan review

Even while I kept drawing comparisons while watching the exhilarating football matches, training camps and green room scenes, there was very little to complain about. It was an experience that completely soaks you in its simplicity, earnest storytelling and performances that are impactful, but never overshadow the narrative.

I remember while watching '83, based on India's victory at the 1983 cricket World Cup, while there were some commendable performances and prosthetics to watch out for, the film lacked depth in its storytelling. Maidaan, however, has learned from these shortcomings, and hence its questionable runtime of 3 hours 1 minute somewhat gets justified when you watch the film as a wholesome account of the events leading up to India's win at the 1962 Asian Games. Sharma clearly hasn't rushed into anything, instead, he has given equal attention and time to each character, and for the story to flow in an engaging manner. Barring a few scenes that do look dragged, you don't really spot a dull moment here.

The film chronicles coach Rahim's (Devgn) journey and contribution to Indian football. After facing an embarrassing defeat at the Summer Olympics in Finland in 1952, he is determined to comeback and make Indian football shine internationally at the next Olympics and Asian Games. He requests the federation to allow him to select his team so he can take complete onus of their performance in the game. He travels the nooks and corners of the country and handpicks the best boys, and trains them further on their legwork and more importantly, teamwork. Under his mentorship, Indian Football Team earned the monikers 'Brazil of Asia' and the 'Team of comebacks'.

Ajay Devgn in a still from the film.
Ajay Devgn in a still from the film.

We get to see Rahim's journey from being a dedicated coach to a devoted family man. Despite the internal politics within the football federation mostly led by Shubhankar (Rudranil Ghosh), pressure from a vindictive and influential sports journalist, Roy Choudhary (Gajraj Rao), political unrest and protests, Rahim refuses to bow down to the system. In front of the federation, he puts his word straight, back home in Hyderabad, he's a loving husband determined to teach English to his wife Saira (Priya Mani), and also a doting father to his kids. Even when he faces a professional and personal setback, things pause for a while, but he soon bounces back with reinforced confidence and conviction. Maidaan beautifully shows Rahim's character arch and takes us through his highs, lows, sacrifices he made, obstacles he crossed and how he maintained his composure while doing all this. There's way too much emotion that's invested in this character, and that, I felt is among the high points of the film.

Ajay Devgn brings gravitas

Ajay has given his all to this understated yet strong character, and he is undeniably the soul of the film. Very different from Shah Rukh Khan's Kabir Khan in Chak De, Ajay brings his own swag on screen with a cigarette perpetually between his fingers throughout the film and letting his eyes do the talking. With the aura that he has, his restrained yet stirring performance brings in so much of gravitas to the film. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise that he isn't burdened to copy or adapt the mannerisms of Rahim, perhaps that's why I saw more of Ajay on screen than coach Rahim. In some of the emotionally charged scenes, Ajay moves you to an extent that you run for a box of tissue papers. In the expression department, however, I felt he could have brought in a little more variation as I could barely make out if he smiled even for once on seeing his team win.

Complementing him well, Priya Mani brings a sense of calm in his life, and remains his support system. There are some really endearing scenes between the two that subtly bring in romance that's not screaming from rooftops. Gajraj and Rudranil are pretty good as the bad men, and they effortlessly make you hate their characters with their cunning camaraderie, though after a point, their villainy gets a tad too dragged. Watch out for Abhilash Thapliyal in the commentary box giving us a lowdown of all the football matches, and clearly his skills as a former RJ came in handy here with all the voice modulation and excitement you see on his face. Also, Rishab Joshi as S. S. Hakim, coach Rahim's son, has a very pleasant screen presence, and he wins you over in a scene during a conversation after his father has made the tough choice to drop him from the team. I really wish makers had given at least a few lines to Ajay's onscreen daughter, Nitanshi Goel, especially after her incredible performance in Laapataa Ladies.

Nevertheless, Maidaan makes for a visual sport spectacle with the live matches and the players that make it look so authentic and real that you actually feel the frenzy of watching the tournament in a packed stadium. There's a dialogue in Maidaan that Rahim tells Roy - 'Don't criticise what you don't understand'. So, I'd also refrain from commenting (or critiquing) on the quality of football being played, but from whatever I could see on the screen, the scenes were presented in a manner to give several nail-biting and some wow moments, too. Adding to it, the brilliant camera work made the whole experience more real, especially in the last 30 months when the tension was building and you could feel it in every move. The crowd captured in the stadium, courtesy neat VFX, for once doesn't look clumsy or laughable.

A special mention to the bunch of fresh faces portraying football players, who make the game look as real as it could possibly be. Chaitnya Sharma aka SlowCheeta as PK Banerjee, Tejas Ravishankar as Peter Thangaraj, Davinder Gill as Jarnail Singh, Amartya Ray as Chuni Goswami, Sushant Waydande as Tulsidas Balaram, Tanmay Bhattacharjee as Pradyut Barman among others put up their best foot forward sweating it out while kicking the ball out of the park in the matches they play.

Maidaan does get melodramatic at places it could have avoided, but what's a sports film without a bit of a drama on the field and off it, too. Watch this film on the big screen to feel the adrenaline rush, enjoy some thrilling football and laud a coach who was as good as his team.

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