Film: 'Shabaash Mithu'
Director: Srijit Mukherji
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Mumtaz Sorcar and Vijay Raaz
Stars: 2.5 out of 5
What’s the movie about?
‘Shabaash Mithu’ is a biopic that chronicles the life of former cricket captain of the Indian Women’s National Cricket Team Mithali Raj and how she had to fight her way to be noticed in a ‘gentleman’s game’. Right from her childhood, she had to claw her way into the game from a set of parents and a grandmother who assumed that her brother was a more natural fit for that professional cricket. But her life changes when her local coach, played by the ever dependable Vijay Raaz, takes her under her wings and prepares her for the big league. But unfortunately, the adulation and the adoration are reserved for male cricketers, and the women’s team has always been the underdog. The film throws the spotlight on these unsung female cricketers who aren’t afforded the same respect, attention, or love from any quarter.
What’s the best part of this film?
Two words. Taapsee Pannu. Despite her distracting white set of fake teeth and an altered jawline, Pannu delivers the most restrained performance of her career. The scenes in which she battles sexism and patriarchy are arresting. The movie begins on a stirring note as we get acquainted with a young girl and her fierce bestie Noorie who take it upon themselves to learn cricket on their own. The sisterhood between the two young girls sets the tone of the film. They may look delicate, but their sheer grit to be taken seriously among a bunch of entitled boys in their neighbourhood gives you the false sense of belief that this is not your usual Bollywood biopic that’s loud and in-your-face. Seasoned actor Vijay Raaz as the local coach is on-point and we wish we had seen more of him. The tenuous bond between his discovery -- a young Pannu -- and he leaves you moved. A stand-out scene where he silently and stoically gives her a life lesson on not letting your personal issues affect your game is particularly riveting. The camaraderie that’s laced with mutual respect is almost palpable.
The meditative biopic begins on a promising note but is unable to keep our interest in Mithu’s life and her career trajectory for long. You often find yourself waiting for that significant curve ball in her life, but that delivery never comes.
But one of the biggest redeeming factors of this film is that it’s a real-life story of a woman with spunk and spine, who took on the big male world of cricket and wrote her own success story. But the theory is incredibly empowering and is all about take one for the women’s team around the globe, ‘Shabaash Mithu’ doesn’t always sustain your interest till the end.
What did we not like about this film?
There is a scene in which Mithali Raj enters the professional team of Indian National Cricket and is met with stiff resistance from her peers who slam her for being delicate and fragile. Her girl-next-door personality and her charming nature doesn’t sit well with her hardened teammates. Let’s all agree that being bullied in your first week of school/training camp is traumatic and downright mean, but it doesn’t always translate into dramatic cinema. The scenes where she finally wins acceptance and respect of her peers are merely dull and familiar.
And, when you have films about the triumph of the underdogs like ‘Chak De! India’ and ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’ embedded in your collective consciousness, Mithali’s trials and tribulations seem almost pedestrian. The other supporting characters – barring Raaz and Mumtaz Sorcar who plays Noorie – are stock characters who don’t leave a lasting impression. Since it’s a real-life story of a young woman who smashed gender barriers and made Indian take notice of their team, you tend to expect a rousing climax. But the staged cricket matches like the finals of the World Cup are just a drag. This is one those film which may have worked wonderfully as book about a plucky batswoman but isn’t the perfect fodder for a gripping film. While we tip our hats to Mithali Raj’s brave and bold victories, her biopic doesn’t hit it out of the park when it comes to entertainment.