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regular-article-logo Friday, 31 May 2024

Maidaan: Ajay Devgn nets a goal in this long but engaging football drama

Directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, Maidaan is the story of coach Syed Abdul Rahim who led the Indian football team to victory at the 1962 Asian Games

Agnivo Niyogi Calcutta Published 12.04.24, 03:25 PM
Ajay Devgn in Maidaan

Ajay Devgn in Maidaan X (formerly Twitter)

In a nation fixated on cricket, amid the IPL frenzy sweeping the country, emerges a heartening ode to Indian football. Ajay Devgn-starrer Maidaan transports viewers back to the 1950s and ’60s, a period known as the golden era of India football. Directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, Maidaan chronicles the life of football coach Syed Abdul Rahim, whose relentless efforts culminated in India clinching gold at the 1962 Asian Games.

Maidaan begins in 1952, as coach Syed Abdul Rahim (Ajay Devgn) assembles a fresh team after India’s humiliating drubbing at the Helsinki Olympics. Rahim’s chief critic is the influential journalist Roy Choudhury, portrayed with gusto by Gajraj Rao. Roy Choudhury wants his ‘yes man’ Subhankar Sengupta (Rudranil Ghosh) to control the team management but Rahim is a tough nut to crack.

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Roy Choudhury’s relentless attacks on Rahim and his eccentric team management tactics serve as a formidable obstacle on the coach’s path. Despite a good show at the 1956 Olympics, Roy Choudhury and Shubhankar resort to machiavellian politics within the board to oust Rahim as the coach of the Indian football team.

If that was not enough, life delivers a yellow card to Rahim when he is detected with lung cancer. Determined to fulfil his dream of seeing India win a medal at an international competition, Rahim fights to get his position back just in time for the 1962 Asian Games. But at 180 minutes, Maidaan is a bit too long and feels tedious especially in the final hour when the melodrama around internal board politics almost takes centrestage.

As Syed Abdul Rahim, Ajay Devgn embodies a man propelled by unwavering conviction and resolve with a quiet strength. In the poignant climax scenes, his eyes convey raw emotion as Rahim grapples with his ill health even as his team inches towards scripting history at the Asian Games.

There are some undeniable parallels between Maidaan and Chak De! India. Devgn’s Rahim has a similar character arc as Shah Rukh Khan’s Kabir Khan — two coaches who fight against the system to deliver victories in order to redeem themselves. Like Kabir Khan, Rahim too wants his boys to put their regional differences behind them and unite as team India. Rahim’s monologue before the showdown between India and South Korea is a throwback to coach Kabir Khan’s ‘70 minute’ speech in Chak De! India.

Like Chak De! India, a strong suit of Maidaan is the cast that makes up the players. The actors not only bear a striking resemblance to the real-life footballers but have also honed their footballing skills to a professional level. Chaitanya Sharma and Amartya Ray shine as young PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami, respectively. Davinder Gill and Tejas Ravishankar make an impression as Jarnail Singh and Peter Thangaraj.

Although Priyamani has limited screen time as Rahim’s wife Saira, her charming presence and performance leave a mark. Rudranil Ghosh, who makes his Hindi film debut with Maidaan, plays a corrupt bureaucrat with his trademark coyish villainy.

Cinematographers Fyodor Lyass, Tassaduq Hussain and Christopher Reed also deserve a pat for capturing the thrill of a football match with breathtaking authenticity. A.R. Rahman elevates the theatrical experience with his soulful score, be it the heartrending melodies during emotional scenes or the stirring strings during the matches.

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