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'Maidaan' Review: Ajay Devgn-starrer Patches Up Flaws With Sheer Spirit & Verve

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

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'Maidaan' Review: Ajay Devgn-starrer Patches Up Flaws With Sheer Spirit & Verve

Under coach Syed Abdul Rahim’s watch, India went through its ‘golden age of football’ – at the time, the team was known as the ‘team of comebacks’. It is perhaps fitting then that Maidaan makes a solid comeback in the second half that makes you forget your complaints about the first. 

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

Ajay Devgn in a still from Maidaan.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The story of a man who fought against all odds to build a team that could take on formidable opponents like the South Korean and Japanese football teams is inspirational enough but Maidaan infuses the story with a verve that keeps it engaging. Rahim (played by Ajay Devgn) was born in Hyderabad but spent most of his time in Calcutta (now Kolkata) solving professional disputes and trying to prove his merit. 

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The film’s first half takes its time setting up the story – we meet Rahim and his ‘adversaries’, we meet his family, and also get a glimpse into each of their motivations. If you’re a Chak De! India fan, a lot of Maidaan feels nostalgic which is spades better than feeling repetitive. Ajay Devgn plays Rahim with a quiet restraint that serves the character well. When his team listens to him in reverence, it’s easy to see why because of the sheer power Devgn exudes on screen. 

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

A still from Maidaan.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Some of the stretches in the first half can feel drawn-out and some of the drama seems to exist only for the ‘effect’ but there is no point at which it feels like the film is doing the protagonist a disservice. Still, there are some predictable moments that are too stretched out for dramatic effect.

 For instance, the ‘democratic voting’ that the association in Calcutta does thrice (if I’m remembering right) are all predictable. If you’ve been paying attention to the general public sentiment, everyone’s votes become clear early on and if you have an understanding of ‘drama’ in cinema, you’ll also be able to predict who will raise their hand first. 

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Some things do stand out like a sore thumb – a lot of the characters feel like caricatures and the Bengali dialect feels artificial for some of the actors playing Bengali characters. Rudranil Ghosh who plays the biggest thorn in Rahim’s side doesn’t get his due when it comes to characterisation. His role is acted well but he doesn’t feel menacing enough for someone to sit up and take notice. The background score does its best to amp up the tension but without a fleshed out “antagonist”, the tension doesn’t always translate. 

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

A still from Maidaan.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

This is only balanced out by the sequences featuring Ajay Devgn and his team of ragtag players from across the world – from scouting a star player from the stands to finding talent in the gullies of Secunderabad, the team-building in Maidaan follows the Chak De! template. It doesn’t matter where the player comes from as long as they’re committed to the sport because they’re all going to be part of ‘Team India’. 

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The ‘team’ features some known faces and some new but each of the actors is pitch-perfect – they’re all easily believable as the players they’re portraying on screen and their synergy is palpable. From Chaitnya Sharma as PK Banerjee to Tejas Ravishankar as Peter Thangaraj and Davinder Singh Gill as Jarnail Singh, each actor is firing on all cylinders. 

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

A still from Maidaan.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

There’s also Madhur Mittal as Fortunator Franco, Sushant Waydande as Tulsidas Balaram, Vishnu G Varrier as O. Chadrashekar, Aaman Munshi as Arun Ghosh, Tanmay Bhattacharjee as Pradyut Burman, Manandeep Singh as Trilok Singh Basera, Amandeep Thakur as Ram Bahadur, Prajwal Maski as Yousuf Khan, Raphael Jose as D. Ethiraj, and Arko Das as Prashanto Sinha, among others. 

Maidaan gives in to a lot of sports films cliches but the dialogue writing is smart enough to make it all feel novel. When Rahim booms, “Maidaan mai utarnaa gyarah par dikhna ek,” it’s difficult to not get swayed. 

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I’m going to take a minor detour back to the background music. While it works for most of the scenes, there are parts where the background score feels too overpowering. It feeds into the film’s tell-don’t-show problem. The film’s music, however, is top notch – the tracks ‘Ranga Ranga’ and ‘Mirza’ are addictive, for lack of a better word. 

'Maidaan' starring Ajay Devgn will hit theatres on 10 April.

Ajay Devgn and Priyamani in a still from Maidaan.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

But the two people who’ve spun magic on screen are cinematographer Fedor Lyass and action director RP Yadav. The sports sequences in Maidaan are some of the finest I’ve ever seen – the perspective shifts are seamless. Even if you know how things are going to turn out, the film keeps you hooked by capturing every single element of the matches perfectly. Even as someone who has a barebones understanding of football, Rahim’s tactics were easy to understand because of how well the film explains it visually. 

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Maidaan is, however, a film about the man behind this success. The film intercuts between Rahim’s professional and personal journey, often highlighting how the two merged into each other. The scenes between a brooding Rahim and his supportive wife Runa (Priyamani) would bring a smile to anyone’s face. The chemistry they share in their domesticity is portrayed beautifully by both the actors. 

Rahim passed away in 1963 after battling cancer after a career-defining Asian Games for the Indian football team in 1962. A man of his stature deserved a film that, at least on paper, is trying to keep its legacy alive. And despite its flaws, Maidaan is that film. 

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Topics:  Ajay Devgn   Maidaan 

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