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Maidaan Put Rahim in the Spotlight, but Got Riddled With Lapses & Inaccuracies

Maidaan might have enlightened the younger generation about coach Rahim saab, but had many omissions and mistakes.

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Football
5 min read
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The film Maidaan, featuring Ajay Devgn and directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, has created a significant buzz by throwing a spotlight on the golden era of Indian football through the story of Syed Abdul Rahim, a revered coach whose contributions helped shape the sport in India. While the film commendably highlighted Rahim’s tactical brilliance and his pivotal role in leading India to victory at the 1962 Asian Games, it primarily portrays his struggle against ‘corruption’ within the football federation. 

This singular focus may leave audiences, especially the younger generation, or those less familiar with Rahim’s broader legacy, with a somewhat narrowed view of his contributions and challenges.

Rahim Saab, as he was fondly known, was indeed a tactical mastermind and his strategies on the field brought Indian football to international prominence during the 1950s and early 1960s. Beyond the conflicts depicted in the movie, however, his philosophy of football, his nurturing of young talent, and his vision for the sport in India were equally vital to his legacy.

The three-hour-long movie then perhaps missed a beat as it failed to depict what made SA Rahim one of the most respected coaches of Indian football. The Quint explores what the film might have included for a fuller and more accurate representation of his impact.

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How Rahim Saab Guided the Greats

Managing a team of superstars like PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Jarnail Singh, Tulsidas Balaram, Arun Ghosh, and Peter Thangaraj – each a giant in their own right – presented a formidable challenge. These players, revered in Indian football history for their exceptional skills and contributions to the sport, formed a constellation of ‘galacticos’ that any coach would dream of, yet find daunting to lead due to their stature and strong personalities.

Rahim Saab’s ability to command respect and unite such a diverse and talented group under a single vision was a testament to his extraordinary leadership and deep understanding of the game and its players. Football enthusiasts would have appreciated more insight into how his strategy extended beyond tactical skills to forming personal connections with his players, recognizing their individual strengths, and weaving them into a unified team.

The Vibrant PK Banerjee and the Flamboyant Chuni Goswami

While Maidaan successfully chronicled the journey of Rahim Saab, the film arguably missed a rich opportunity to further explore the vibrant personalities and profound impact of PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami – two icons who not only shaped the course of Indian football but also captured the hearts of fans with their unique characters and contributions on and off the field.

  • Chuni Goswami

Known for his flamboyance, Goswami was a sporting icon who also excelled in cricket, embodying versatility and charisma. His on-field brilliance and off-field charm could have provided a captivating subplot, enriching the film’s narrative by showcasing his multifaceted life and the allure that made him a beloved figure.

  • PK Banerjee

As one of Indian football’s most storied personalities, Banerjee's life was a treasure trove of anecdotes and inspirational tales. Known for his eloquence and storytelling prowess, delving into his personal journey, his leadership qualities, and his infectious enthusiasm for the game could have added a deeper, more personal layer to the film, connecting audiences more profoundly with the history of the sport.

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Conflict Between PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami Over Captaincy

As the 1962 Asian Games approached, both PK Banerjee and Chuni Goswami were contenders for captaincy — Banerjee for his seasoned leadership and past contributions, and Goswami, for his charismatic presence on the field. 

Despite potential conflict, Banerjee stepped aside for Goswami. Later, Rahim Saab would have both Banerjee and Goswami as roommates during the Asian Games which would resolve the gathering storm and both players would realise to prioritise team success over personal gain. Such episodes in the movie could have provided fans with a deeper sense of things that unfolded.
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Caught Between the Posts: How the Thangaraj-Barman Episode Unfolded in Reality

The portrayal of goalkeeper Peter Thangaraj diverges from the historical accounts of his condition during the 1962 Asian Games. Thangaraj was not sidelined by an injury, as depicted in the film, but was actually battling pneumonia and flu, rendering him too weak to play. In Thangaraj’s absence, Pradyut Barman stepped up and performed admirably as the goalkeeper until the semi-finals. Impressed with Barman, Rahim Saab preferred to continue with him in the final.

However, external pressure played a pivotal role in this scenario. Indian embassy officials in Indonesia, recalling Thangaraj’s past heroics against Indonesia in 1960 — which were instrumental in India qualifying for the 1960 Rome Olympics — insisted on his participation in the final.

Rahim Saab’s acquiescence to these demands, despite his reservations expressed in his quote, “Isko khilana khatarnaak ho sakta hai” (Playing him could be dangerous), illustrated the dilemmas and pressures faced by coaches in balancing various interests. While Thangaraj did eventually stand tall under India’s goal in the final, Rahim Saab was full of remorse for the decision.
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Renowned sports journalist Jaydeep Basu, who has authored Stories from Indian football and co-authored and edited Box to Box, confirmed the story. 

Rahim saab felt guilty. In fact, he bought a wristwatch for Barman during a layover in Singapore on their way back from Jakarta. He gifted it to Barman with the words, “Jeete raho beta” (Live long, my son), symbolizing a heartfelt apology and recognition of Barman’s unwarranted exclusion from the final.
Jaydeep Basu

Had this narrative been shown, it could have enriched the movie and offered a more nuanced view of the events and Rahim Saab’s decisions during the 1962 Asian Games.

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The Curious Case of Arun Ghosh, Ram Bahadur and Prashanta Sinha

There were other discrepancies too that have not gone unnoticed by those familiar with the true events. The portrayal of Ram Bahadur in the final against South Korea, despite his actual absence from both the final and semi-final games, where Prashanta Sinha played instead, represented a significant oversight. Sinha’s contribution was not only pivotal due to his participation, but also critical as he assisted in a goal by Jarnail Singh during the final. Ignoring such a key player and attributing his actions to another not only confuses the narrative but also does a disservice to Sinha’s contributions.

In another separate incident, the depiction of Arun Ghosh as having conceded an own goal against France, which led to a draw in the 1960 Olympics, is another factual error that could tarnish the reputation of a respected figure in Indian football. In fact, Ghosh's reputation as a defender could be unfairly tarnished by this misrepresentation, as no player would willingly commit such an error, particularly on such a significant stage.
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For Ghosh, who is still alive, seeing himself depicted in such a negative light could be distressing and unjust. This inaccuracy not only harms Ghosh's legacy but also raises questions about the thoroughness of the film's research and the sensitivity with which real-life events are depicted.

While Maidaan does a commendable job of celebrating a pivotal era in Indian football, these episodes could have greatly enhanced the film’s impact. Moreover, accurate portrayals could have also strengthened the film’s credibility and educational value and provided audiences, particularly the younger generation and those unfamiliar with the history, with a more authentic and comprehensive understanding of the struggles and triumphs of these sports heroes. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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