Maidaan Movie Review: Why is it that Bollywood has never managed to produce a sports film better than Chak De India? Even the 'acclaimed' ones that came after the Shimit Amin-directed masterpiece, like Nitesh Tiwari's Dangal, still seemed to mimic the Chak De formula whenever they aimed to inject drama into the sports sequences. Maidaan, helmed by Amit Ranvindernath Sharma, much like Dangal, stands as a decent sports film, benefiting from its status as a biopic of an inspiring figure. While there are moments where Maidaan truly shines, it ultimately succumbs to the trappings set by Chak De India while also failing to justify its three-hour runtime. Maidaan Review: Ajay Devgn As Football Coach Syed Abdul Rahim Shines in This Sports Drama, As Per Critics!

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when India was viewed as an emerging force in international football. The man largely credited for this perception is the late Syed Abdul Rahim, former coach and manager of the Indian football team, who oversaw a remarkable decade for Indian football from 1952 to 1962. Maidaan delves into Rahim's tenure, showcasing how he broke West Bengal's monopoly on team selection, opting instead to recruit players from various states. Under his guidance, the team delivered impressive performances at two Olympics (despite failing to secure any medals) before clinching the gold at the Asian Games in 1962.

Watch the Trailer of Maidaan:

Of course, Rahim's journey was not without its challenges. He encountered significant opposition from a scheming senior newspaper editor, Ghosh (played by Gajraj Rao), who wielded considerable influence within the football federation and ministry, owing to a past slight from Rahim. Additionally, Rahim battled lung cancer yet remarkably continued to coach and guide the Indian team to victory at the Asian Games.

Back to The '60s

By far, director Amit Sharma of Tevar and Badhaai Ho fame has done a commendable job translating SA Rahim's life from paper to screen. He has also excelled in recreating that decade, evident in his attention to minor details and conversations. It felt amusing to hear how unusual "What's your number?" would have sounded in that period when owning a telephone was considered a super-luxury. Cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray's work capturing the essence of the era is highly commendable.

A Still From Maidaan

The first half of Maidaan traverses through SA Rahim's unquestioned hold over his team after the 1952 Olympics fiasco. We are mostly shown the highs, witnessing how he uplifts his team members and how they flourish under his coaching tactics during the Olympics (earning the tag 'Brazil of Asia' after their 1960 Olympics performance). At times, Maidaan feels more like a montage of the team's better moments during this period, though the scene where Rahim lambasts the Australian team and the media after defeating them in their first match during the 1956 Olympics received well-deserved applause from the crowd in my theatre.

Since the narrative is primarily focused on SA Rahim, the players - some of whom are frequently replaced between tournaments - lack fully rounded characterisation, though PK Banerjee (Chaitanya Sharma) and Chuni Goswami (Amartya Ray) manage to leave their mark. On the contrary, Madhur Mittal, who delivered incredibly in the Muthiah Muralitharan biopic, is underutilised here.

Bureaucracy Sucks... Even in the Film

Of course, in most Indian sports films, the biggest villain is bureaucracy (rightly so, if you follow the state of sports in the country other than cricket), and in Maidaan, it's no exception. Rao's antagonistic editor and his sycophantic member on the board, played by Rudranil Ghosh, try to undermine the protagonist and the team. Here's where I felt Maidaan was at its weakest.

A Still From Maidaan

I am not sure how much of this tale is true - I didn't come across any articles where Rahim was fired post the 1960 Olympics performance - but the drama felt contrived at best, and Ghosh's character felt annoying for the sake of it. It also doesn't help that the film chooses to resolve sticky situations with the power of short monologues that magically convince anyone to see the hero's side, whether it be on-the-fence board members or even the late Finance Minister Morarji Desai. These could have been minor nitpicks since the other portions of the film fare better, but they already consume much of Maidaan's three-hour runtime, making the plot elements feel tiresome and the villains appear caricatured.

Smoking Kills...

In fact, there was credible drama already existing in Rahim's story, through his diagnosis of cancer, and also the hostile reception the Indian team kept facing in the Jakarta Asian Games due to the political situation between Indonesia and India. At times, the melodrama tries too hard to evoke tears, but mostly Maidaan succeeds in its poignant moments, particularly in the portions where SA Rahim (who used to be a chain smoker) coaches the team to the best of his abilities while his own health is failing.

A Still From Maidaan

Special mention should be made of the placement of the song "Mirza." I haven't been a fan of AR Rahman's song compositions these days, but this one strikes a chord, particularly with its placement, picturization, and the performances of Devgn and Priyamani.

The Mixed Onfield Performance

Now, turning to the sports segments of the film, Maidaan mostly feels like a mixed bag here. What defines a good sports film, especially one centred around football, is how it captures the action on the field. It should resemble an exquisite dance choreography—fluid, flexible, and discernible. In Maidaan, however, there are many instances of shaky camera work, abrupt transitions from on-surface steadicam movements (which could have been a brilliant concept if executed well) to conventional shots, and frequent cuts to crowd reactions. Maidaan Song ‘Ranga Ranga’: A R Rahman Composes Upbeat Track for Ajay Devgn Starrer, Inspires Fans.

A Still From Maidaan

Here's where Maidaan benefits significantly from having AR Rahman as the composer—his background score enhances nearly every moment of the matches, particularly through the use of percussion instruments (although there are times when the music overpowers the action). Additionally, the inclusion of commentators, portrayed by Vijay Maurya and Abhilash Thapiyal, providing on-field analysis play-by-play (considering it was still the era when All India Radio dominated India), ensures that even football novices won't miss out on the tactical intricacies.

The combination of AR Rahman's score and intense drama makes the final match of the film effective in parts, despite the lingering resemblance to Chak De India.

Chak De... O Chak De India

It's hard to overlook the shadow of that Shah Rukh Khan film when Maidaan constantly evokes moments reminiscent of it. When India draws with France (but fails to qualify), the respect it garners from the opposition and the crowd feels akin to the scene where the women's team, although defeated by men, earns their respect. There's also a scene in Maidaan where the Indian football team faces uncertainty about participating in the Asian Games due to lack of funds, echoing a similar moment in CDI (which led to the aforementioned hockey match).

A Still From Maidaan

At times, Maidaan has no option but to flow with the tide, such as the trajectory of the Asian Games where the Indian team ends up competing against South Korea in the final, the same team they lost to in the first match (although the loss is exaggerated—South Korea beats India 2-0, but in the film, it's depicted as a four-goal defeat). The subsequent resurgence and the team's performance inadvertently bring to mind moments from the YRF film, which becomes problematic when it either triggers a sense of déjà vu (like a moment where a striker prevents the ball from entering an undefended goalpost) or feels weaker in comparison. While SA Rahim's pre-final speech to the team is heartfelt, it lacks the impact of Kabir Khan's 'sattar' minute speech. Even Rahman (who is in much better form here than in some of his recent Bollywood ventures) fails to evoke the same inspirational magic as the title track of Chak De India with his anthem attempt in "Team India Hain Hum".

The Performances

Speaking of the performances, Ajay Devgn is fairly restrained, resulting in an effective portrayal (though he doesn't bother to maintain the accent from the region he is from), which may not rank among his best but meshes well with the movie. He is particularly good in the third act of the movie. Priyamani delivers a heartwarming performance as SA Rahim's wife, and their scenes together are filled with emotion. Gajraj Rao's performance makes his character a compelling antagonist, although I found the writing of his part less enjoyable.

Final Thoughts on Maidaan

Maidaan is far from being the best in the league of sports films made in India, but it tells a story that deserves attention—an inspiring tale of SA Rahim and the film does mostly justice to his exploits in the sports arena. If you can overlook the CDI influences and remain patient with some of its drawn-out drama and runtime, then Maidaan could prove to be a fairly decent sports drama, featuring intense football action, particularly in the third act, along with compelling performances from Ajay Devgn and Priyamani.


(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 09, 2024 01:01 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website