Biopics in the Hindi film industry have always been more so a celebratory fest to an image-cleansing saga at the helm of things. And hence, when you do not want delve into the 'negative' details of the respective personality, you better make the film an entertainer to remember, as we saw with a film like M.S. Dhoni - The Untold Story.
Now, we have one of the first biopics on not just India's but International Women's Cricket's most celebrated player, Mithali Raj just come out and having had the chance to see it before hand, here's what I thought of it-
It is almost customary to begin the tale of a sportsperson with their childhood days, isn't it? Shabaash Mithu also begins with her days as a little kid and goes on to display a long saga about her tryst with cricket, her coach, her family and multiple other factors. Amazingly, this is where the film shines the most. We are talking about an international legend here and it has been a pity that we did not know about her childhood stories like we probably would do about the male counterparts. The segments of Mithali Raj's younger days, her friendship with Noorie and her rise in the field of cricket is undoubtedly the most entertaining part of the film. It is helped that little Inayat Verma is phenomenal as young Mithali and so is the child artist who plays Noorie. It is only owing to the latter that the first half an hour of the film was a joyful ride.
The Lengthy Runtime
A problem that is a lot more recurring now than ever with a few films is the runtime. I fail to understand the need to have long runtimes for films that easily could wrap up in so much lesser. But Shabaash Mithu is actually one film that I feel couldn't just have been minutes shorter but in fact, almost about an hour shorter. A more taut screenplay, shorter sequences about multiple instances in Raj's life and an overall arc would have made this 2 hour 38 minute film easily a winner if it was anywhere between and hour and a half to two hours.
Tropes, But Underwhelming
With biopics, another thing that is a constant is that it is going to rely on tropes to convey the message better and more pronounced. And I am fine with that. But if you are going to do that, you need to unapologetic and unabashed about it. Director Srijit Mukherji goes on to adapt shorter and undercooked sequences to convey the tropes - be it elder Mithali Raj's encounters with gender discrimination, being bullied by her then rivals, and so on. One scene where Raj has temporarily quit cricket and come back home has noble intentions but the treatment of the same ends up falling into the very pit it mocks of. Just because she does rangoli, she is 'feminine'? Nope. Other scenes where Raj is fighting the odds are also formulaic and while it might seem like 'this is how it was', the execution of these scenes could have been so much better.
Mixed Bag & Half-Baked
A feeling that might be constant even with you as you watch the entire film is that you might find yourself on the edge all the time. In a few scenes, you buy into everything presented to you - you buy into the journey, the struggles and everything else; and on the other hand, in a so many other scenes, you just don't! Shabaash Mithu ends up being a half-baked attempt to commemorate the biggest female cricketer of all time. For instance, with her family angle being presented, we are shown that Raj's grandmother and brother, who was also an aspiring cricketer during his younger days - do not support her decisions or even feel proud initially. After presenting a legitimate angle of Mithali Raj being chosen over her brother, Mithun by a coach and how there is an obvious animosity between the siblings, this angle is entirely forgotten about. In the post-credits, we just see her brother Mithun now accepting it and even hanging up his sister's team photo. In a film that should be about as much emotions as it is about the sport, this was a great opportunity to get more intimate into the star's personal life and struggles.
Always Underwhelming for an Icon
Usually, in sports dramas, there are outside factors that turn out to be a lot more underwhelming and the actual sport segments are a winner. It is rather unfortunate that with Shabaash Mithu, the sports segments are actually a downer. It isn't that one cannot see leading lady's Taapsee Pannu's hardwork or cricketing jargons being thrown around enough to retain the authenticity - but the director Mukherji and writer Priya Aven fail to assemble a rousing mix of cricketing segments that atleast make up for the other flaws in the film.
There are some beautiful moments of first-person look in cinematography and eye-catching shots as well but the overall idea to capture the sport doesn't succeed in providing the adrenaline it should have. I am an avid cricket watcher and have, in fact. followed MIthali Raj's career closely too. The film began perfectly with how her coach Sampath Sir (played by Vijay Raaz) would always ask her to focus on technique and not glory - I felt excited where it is leading to - but instead of actually carving out some brilliant sporting segments of Raj's impeccable technical prowess with the bat, we continue to get half-baked cricket as well.
Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj
Pannu is a fine actor, as she has proved with her many performances, especially in her recent endeavors. Her acts in films like Haseen Dilruba and Loop Lapeta have been impressive indeed. But here, playing a real life person, Pannu delivers just what the film delivers - a mixed bag. In some sequences, Pannu shines with finesse - be it her crying on two major occurrences in Raj's life or breaking down on not winning the World Cup after coming incredibly close. But in several other scenes, especially in the sporting segments, one can easily see her discomfort. Apart from a decent looking few cover drives, Pannu doesn't excel in that department. Was there any other female actor who could have played Mithali Raj better? Absolutely. Does Pannu feel to be a wrong choice? Not really.
In the end, Shabaash Mithu is a brave and applaudable attempt to celebrate the legend but ends up being a lengthy, half-cooked saga that is just about average.
Rating - **1/2 (2.5/5)