‘Maidaan’ movie review: Reliving the golden era of Indian football

Sports biographies have made sporadic appearances in the Hindi mainstream cinema. Irrespective of India’s cricket obsession, there have been more prominent biopics of wrestlers and athletes.

Maidaan joins this list. It chronicles what sports historians call the golden era of football (1951-70).

During this time, India regularly appeared in both Olympics and Asian Games and managed to perform well. India had also reached the semifinals in the 1956 Olympics and won the gold medal in Jakarta Asian Games.

Maidaan is based on the true story of Syed Abdul Rahim, known as the architect of this golden period. The film begins with the coverage of the Indian team’s defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia at the Olympics.

Some online claims suggest that the then Nehru government did not provide shoes for the Olympic games but in reality, many players of the Indian team were more comfortable playing barefoot.

S A Rahim wanted to build a world class Indian team from scratch. He dribbled and tackled the petty politicking of the sports federations and lack of resources to put Indian football on the world map.

Director Amit Sharma has chronicled this journey very well. He has utilised the resources of storytelling to give a wholesome experience. He uses sports commentary to explain nuances of the game which may have escaped the attention of the football-agnostic viewer.

Films based on sports bank on two critical elements – emotion (generally a motivating speech), which arrives before the climax, and cinematography. The emotional peak is expertly crafted and remains faithful to Rahim’s character who is depicted as a reserved individual.

But the cinematography could have been better. There aren’t many gripping shots of sporting moments. Frequent use of reaction shots of people listening to the radio commentary becomes somewhat tiresome.

Art direction and costume designs have been meticulously recreated. Ajay Devgn delivers a credible performance as S A Rahim. His portrayal of a soft spoken but self assured character is marvellous.

A R Rahman is brilliant with his music, especially in the climax, which stirs one’s emotions.

Overall, the film is a brave effort that showcases to the many cricket-loving Indians, the challenges other sports have faced in the country.

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