Maidaan: Authentic Touch Lifts Sports Biopic

Authenticity makes sports movies compelling. Within the restricted scope of this genre – aren’t they always about the underdog, fall and redemption, tears and triumph and the resilience of the human spirit? – filmmakers must make their narrative authentic. The trick is to stay within the formula yet stay away from it with a dash of originality in the treatment of the subject. Only a few get it right to rise from the ordinary to the exceptional. Director Amit Ravindernath Sharma managed it well in Maidaan.


The biographical drama, essaying the decade-long journey of Syed Abdul Rahim, India’s greatest football coach from 1950 till early 1960s, and the glory days of Indian football, gets the plot trajectory spot on and intersperses it with the right dose of dramatic tension to keep the viewer invested in the proceedings. It’s an underdog story where mindsets and the ‘system’ play the antagonist, trying to keep both passion for and potential in the game in a permanent state of siege.

It’s a forgotten story that needed to be told in a cricket-crazy nation. Cricket in India found its inflection point in 1983, after the World Cup victory, and has not looked back ever since. Football could have trodden a similar path had the momentum of the days under Rahim been sustained through dedication of the minders of the game. Of course, we get to know supermen such as Jarnail Singh, Peter Thangaraj, PK Banerjee, Chunni Goswami and Tulasidas Balram who placed India firmly in football’s global map.

Understated and deliberately distant from any jingoistic overtone, the impact of the film is accentuated by the controlled yet intense performance of Ajay Devgn. He lives the character of Rahim and provides it great dignity through silence more than words. The eyes speak of joy, pain and pathos loud and lucid. The background score by AR Rahman elevates the movie to a level rarely touched by cinema of this genre. Other actors, specifically Gajraj Rao as the influential sports journalist, shine in a well-scripted plot. The feel, with montages of India’s games and atmospherics of the 50s and 60s, is authentic, not manufactured.

Many have compared Maidaan with Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De India. Both movies are about coaches, both turn unfancied bunch of players into giant killers and both suffer similar emotional turbulence while preparing the team. Yet the treatment is different. Maidaan shapes up differently as it’s a biopic the Chak De… is partly a work of fiction (based on Mir Ranjan Negi’s ordeal). Such comparison is pointless, in any case. If you love sports movies, you would love both.

(By arrangement with Perspective Bytes)

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