Shabaash Mithu is well-made saga of women cricketers’ struggles

Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj and Vijay Raaz as her coach Sampath Sir in Shabaash Mithu. Photo: Universal Communications

A well-made sports film, a biopic in a way, that suffers from no fault of it other than its inordinate length (163 minutes), Shabaash Mithu centers around the phenomenal real-life achievements of cricketer Mithali Raj (played by Taapsee Pannu). Mithali broke and set multiple records and achieved rare distinction in Indian women’s cricket, especially on international platforms, before retiring from cricket just a month ago!

And why does the film suffer? Simply because, by its very definition, it seems like a reprise of the umpteen sports biopics and fictional sagas we have seen down the decades! The initiation, the mentor, the struggles, the opposition at all levels—in Mithali’s case, they are all real but seem like copies or templates of the past!!

And that, combined with its lack of star value except for a solo Taapsee, makes Shabaash Mithu a film that should be watched—here is where current ticket prices will be an additional deterrent, so maybe a Tax-Free status might help a wee bit! Shabaash Mithu is not totally devoid of entertainment, but perhaps it needed to be crisper to get the stronger word-of-mouth which is so necessary for such films, now that the genre is overdone and people do not endorse it any more. Even the big-star 83 did not really work.

Make no mistake: in many ways, this film is different, refreshingly so, from the typical sports drama or biopic. For one, Mithali Raj a.k.a Mithu gets full support from her parents (Sameer Dharmadhikari and Devadarshini Sukumaran) even though her brother is jealous and her grandmother disapproves of her as cricketer.

The family is well-off and the coach, Sampath Sir (Vijay Raaz) is dedicated. Mithali’s initiation into cricket comes from her tomboyish friend and Bharatanatyam co-student Noorie (Kasturi Jagnam) when she is very young (Inayat Varma playing her childhood).  She is noticed by the coach who offers to train her.

The steely determination with which Mithali, spurred by Sampath, makes it to the national team, despite initially derisive colleagues, is also praiseworthy. And as was the case in real life, her actual struggles begins when women cricket players in India are being discriminated against, and rendered faceless despite their achievements.

We are unaware again of how much drama and fiction have been introduced, one notable feature being of the women’s team flying to London and being treated shabbily compared to the wild enthusiasm with which the Indian men in blue are cheered by the masses—clearly a dramatic sequence that is not from real life.

Then there is the Cricket Board meeting wherein Mithali, now a captain, confronts a sexist team of officers who bring in a veteran peon (Ramsingh Falkoti) to prove that no one can recognize even a single women player, despite the team having already achieved substantial triumphs. The team show their protests in a different way, but Mithali never points out that the Board too is responsible for their anonymity!

There are minor hiccups, like Noorie being suddenly married off by her conservative family and the coach passing away suddenly, but Mithali takes both blows in her stride, and begins her main battle—with the undeserved obscurity her team faces. But vindication is not far away—incredibly after they lose in the Women’s World Cup’s final match after defeating many famous nations.

Taapsee is the lifeblood of this film and gives it her everything, all the more creditable because the real Mithali is soft-spoken and barely emotes what she is feeling, and the actor is made to emulate that. It is a warm, genuinely essayed performance. Vijay Raaz is excellent as the coach—it is truly astounding how the perennial ham of all his earlier movies has gradually emerged in the last many years into such a fine actor who can fit any kind of role.

The two kids are adorable. And while everyone else acts well, the standout performances come from Mumtaz Sorcar as Jhorna Ghosh and Sampa Mandal as Neelu.

Srijit Mukherji’s direction is controlled, as are the dialogues, and the background score refreshingly different even if loud. The songs, however, does not match up, and neither do their lyrics. Technically fine, the film may also disappoint cricket fans for the hurried depiction of the World Cup Finals. But the film focuses, and rightly so, more on the human drama than the sport. And if that’s not cricket for the viewers, it’s tough luck for the film.

Here is a film that would have been perfect for OTT. It is watchable but for the points mentioned, most of which, unfortunately, were unavoidable here.

Rating: ***

Viacom 18 Studios & Colosceum Media’s Shabaash Mithu Produced by: Ajit Andhare  Directed by: Srijit Mukherji  Written by: Priya Aven, Vijay Maurya & Ajit Andhare  Music: Amit Trivedi  Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Devadarshini Sukumuran, Inayat Varma, Kasturi Jagnam, Sampa Mandal, Geeta Agarwal, Tahir Anand, Ramsingh Falkoti, Mumtaz Sorcar. Shilpi Marwaha, Darwesh Sayyed, Sameer Dharmadhikari, Jyoti Subhash, Nishant Pradhan, Anushree Kushwaha & others



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