MS Dhoni star bowled over by chance to portray cricket hero
Many Indians have two great loves in life – cricket and Bollywood. When these two passions come together, it can be euphoric – not to mention extremely lucrative. No surprise, then, that this week marks the release of the year’s second cricket-themed biopic (and a third has been announced).
M S Dhoni: The Untold Story, which was released on Thursday, is based on the life of poster boy Mahendra Singh Dhoni, under whose leadership Team India lifted the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 title and the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2011.
Directed by Neeraj Pandey – best known for his thrillers Special 26 and Baby – the film offers something a little different from the over-dramatised Azhar – which was released in May and based on Mohammad Azharuddin’s life – or the upcoming Sachin: A Billion Dreams, in which Sachin Tendulkar will appear as himself.
M S Dhoni is a “film that tells the truth”, says Sushant Singh Rajput, who takes the title role, alongside Kiara Advani as Dhoni’s wife, Sakshi, and Disha Patani as former girlfriend Priyanka Jha.
It shows India’s most popular skipper as “a human – heroic but not glorified”, he adds. Most importantly, the biographical drama offers an “insight into Dhoni’s mind”.
Rajput made his Bollywood debut in 2013 with Kai Po Che. This was followed the same year by Shuddh Desi Romance, with Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor, then PK in 2014 and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! last year, as he established himself as one of Bollywood’s leading stars.
With this variety of increasingly high-profile roles, it is difficult to believe that Rajput has been in the industry for just three years. How does he choose his projects? “It is my instinct and the choices I made at that point of time,” he says.
The 30-year-old actor was studying engineering when he caught the acting bug and dropped out in 2006 to pursue theatre.
In 2008, he launched a successful career in television, which included the lead role in the soap opera Pavitra Rishta.
Before filming started on M S Dhoni, Rajput practised for more than a year so that he could play cricket and hit shots like Dhoni. Cricketer Kiran More coached him for four months before he started learning Dhoni’s body language.
Dhoni’s batting style was scientifically analysed, learnt and practised. Training sessions were recorded and compared with the cricketer’s game. It took a further six months for Rajput to feel confident that he looked and played like India’s “Captain Cool” – and thinks that all the effort was worth it.
“Not just this film, I work and prepare equally hard for all my characters,” he says. “I always like to know in advance what I am going to do with a particular character.” It helped that the actor is a big admirer of the 35-year-old cricketer he is portraying.
“I was and will always be his fan,” he says. “I always tried to play cricket, but was not even selected for the school team.”
His sister, however, was a part of the women’s national team, he adds proudly.
Dhoni, or Mahi as he is affectionately known, was “extremely non-interfering and cooperative” during production of the film, Rajput says.
“There were times when I would sit and ask him a lot of questions, and he would just smile and answer me patiently,” he adds.
The actor’s time with the sportsman taught him to “live in the moment and have faith in my beliefs”, he says. “This film has also made me believe that nothing is impossible.”