'Maidaan' Review: Ajay Devgn steals the show in this emotional sports drama

Based on the life of former coach of Indian football team Syed Abdul Rahim, the film revolves around the golden period of the game in the country

by

Husain Rizvi

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Published: Tue 9 Apr 2024, 5:54 PM

Last updated: Tue 9 Apr 2024, 6:06 PM

Chak De! India had Shah Rukh Khan. 83 banked on India’s love for cricket. And now, Maidaan, a semi-fictionalised account of Syed Abdul Rahim’s life, who coached the Indian football team from 1952 to 1963, attempts to up the stakes for sports dramas in Bollywood.

When we think of sports in India, cricket comes to mind. But there was a time when the nation cheered for football. That period began from 1952 when Rahim held the reins of the team and led them to several victories. If this period is known as the Golden Age of Football in India, it is because the national team won two gold medals at Asian Games. Under him, India also secured fourth place in Summer Olympics of 1956. Naturally then, a biopic was waiting to be made on this legend.


There was also a time when the Indian football team had earned the moniker of ‘Brazil of Asia’, Brazil being a country known for its inherent passion for football having produced legends like Pele and Ronaldo. In Amit Sharma’s film, this important moment is captured rather dramatically. Picture Devgn (who plays Rahim) kicking a football and it curves past a moving vehicle to reach the kids on the other side; picture Devgn eyeing a potential Indian football team player who showcases his skills on the streets of a slum neighbourhood; picture a striker who makes defenders and the goalkeeper bite the dust; and then picture a striker's shot so powerful that it shreds past the goal net.

It is in these moments that Maidaan reminds us that it is a hardcore Bollywood film. While subtlety may not be the strong point of the film, it is adequately supported by great cinematography. It uses the POV (point of view) shooting technique to showcase the matches, which almost has the viewer feel present in the games. It also helps transport you back to the 1950s Calcutta with cobbled streets and Morris 10s.


The reason Calcutta, or Kolkata, is an important setting for the film is because the residents of the city swear by football. Which also explains when Rahim wants to bring in a new batch of players from outside Bengal, he is faced with challenges posed by a Bengali insider (played by Rudranil Ghosh) at Football Federation of India.

A still from 'Maidaan'
A still from 'Maidaan'

Rudranil’s character is backed by a powerful sports journalist, played by Gajraj Rao, whose wig and overly done makeup did not win our vote of confidence. In Rudranil and Gajraj, you have antagonists that are more annoying than formidable.

But Devgn stands tall. From flaunting moustache to kicking the ball, there is a signature Devgn style that audiences have come to associate the actor with, and that lends to the film some very entertaining moments.

It also helps that the film shows the father, the husband, the son that also reside within a football coach.

One of the most poignant moments in the film is when, despite his failing health, Devgn’s Rahim has to keep going in order to help the team achieve a dream that is not only his but also his family’s. It helps to have Priyamani in the role of a supporting wife who shares her husband’s dream. She strikes the fine balance between drama and quiet resilience.

For a film that does not shy away from dramatisation, there are no gut-wrenching speeches here. And yet, Maidaan, releasing on April 10 in the UAE, with its run-time of three hours, is fairly watchable because it sheds light on a largely forgotten chapter in India’s sports history. A time when Team India struck gold. Literally!

Maidaan

Director: Amit Sharma

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Priyamani, Gajraj Rao

Stars: 3/5

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