Maidaan Review: Ajay Devgn Starrer Sports Biopic Scores More Goals Than It Misses

When you see kids out there playing in the rain without shoes and older folks getting just as upset over India’s loss in the 1952 Summer Olympics as if their own child failed that UPSC exam, one can certainly feel Kolkata’s deep love for football. And in the midst of this vibrant city backdrop, ‘Maidaan’, starring Ajay Devgn, tells the gripping story of a determined coach and a team of underdogs, all set to make history in India’s sports history. 

Much like other sports dramas or biopics, this film directed by Amit Sharma, relies heavily on emotional moments and instances of overcoming odds to craft a narrative around the remarkable coach Syed Abdul Rahim, who pushed the Indian football team onto the global stage. From being seen as underdogs to earning the title of ‘Brazil of Asia’ in the 1950s, Rahim is depicted as someone who dared to tread the less travelled path.

To make Indian football shine, he traverses from the streets of Secunderabad to the backwaters of Kerala, handpicking the finest players. It’s kind of like Nick Fury assembling the Avengers. Yet, one could argue that India’s Asian Games dream was no less than any mission undertaken by those superheroes. Imagine a scenario where players often lack proper shoes and resort to wrapping cloth around their feet to play, the Indian team had to face tough teams like Japan, Korea, and Thailand to clinch the trophy.

‘Maidaan’ stands apart from other sports movies like ‘83’ or ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’ by foregoing prosthetics and detailed life stories. Instead, it delves deeply into Rahim and his team’s fierce fight against the system and the obstacles hurled their way. In a major scene on the field, as players try hard to defend a goal, their struggles off the field mirror this intensity, with the weight of a nation’s expectations on their shoulders and football federation members hindering their path at every turn.

The movie, based on the life of football coach Syed Abdul Rahim and India’s victory at the 1962 Asia Games, falls short of capturing the essence of a biopic. Ajay Devgn appears more as himself on screen than as Coach Rahim. While it is common for actors to adopt mannerisms and body language in this genre, Devgn brings his own natural ease and intensity to the role.  Whether casually smoking a cigarette while being criticized by the board or confidently advocating for his players in the Ministry office, he showcases a versatile range. Devgn keeps his star appeal without overshadowing his performance.

Maidaan Review: Ajay Devgn Starrer Sports Biopic Scores More Goals Than It Misses

Although ‘Maidaan’ may bring to mind moments from Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Chak De! India’, particularly when Rahim’s patriotism is questioned, Syed Abdul is quite different from Coach Kabir Khan. There are no intense scenes with the players or or exploration of Rahim’s personal struggles. Even so, Devgn’s performance shines, though it’s a little funny how he barely moves around on the field or even touches the football—definitely not what you’d expect from a national football team coach.

Now, shifting focus to the supporting cast, Gajraj Rao takes on the role of the cunning and smirking antagonist in the tale. Playing the role of Roy Choudhury, a senior sports journalist, Rao shows up as Rahim’s biggest critic and stumbling block. Getting away from his usual wholesome fatherly roles, Rao seamlessly turns into a conniving villain who sneers at the team’s progress. Undoubtedly, the actor portrays his character with finesse, easily blending into the backdrop of 1950s India’s sports scene. On the other hand, Priyamani portrays the role of the innocent, devoted wife who gets little attention from her husband but admires his passion for his work. Despite her longing for more time with him, she remains his faithful supporter of his dreams.

A shoutout goes to the group of talented newcomers portraying football players Chaitanya Sharma 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. The actors sweating it out on the field, give it their all and it shines through their performance. Sure to captivate audiences, the cinematography by Tushar Kanti Ray and Fyodor Lyass captures the essence of the sport brilliantly, complemented by an impressive background score that skillfully leads the narrative.

Despite its lengthy runtime of 3 hours, the film tries to justify its duration by diving into the events preceding India’s victory at the 1962 Asian Games. However, some scenes feel unnecessarily dragged, and trimming them a bit could have boosted the film’s pace and cut moments where the audience might feel the urge to yawn or glance at their watches. Even so, much like the Indian team, the movie transcends its flaws to touch your heart, an accomplishment it achieves with aplomb.

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