Maidaan Movie Review: Amit Sharma’s ‘Maidaan’ is a sports melodrama/biopic that needed more consistent and engaging writing, but it has its moments

Amit Sharma
The film stars Ajay Devgn, Priyamani, Gajraj Rao. It chronicles a great phase of Indian football, and its pluses get you through the bits that don’t work.
Maidaan Movie Review

Maidaan Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Fresh Lime Films,Bayview Projects LLP,Zee Studios
Director : Amit Sharma
Music Director : A.R.Rahman

Amit Sharma’s Maidaan runs three hours, and let me say that I was never really bored. The film has its issues – more about that later – but taken as a whole, it is a watchable sports melodrama/biopic that’s sadder than you expect. This genre is usually about rah-rah triumphalism, but here we see the red tape, the personal issues – at one point, even the Government of India becomes an obstacle. And why? There’s not enough money in the coffers, so why waste precious dollars on a football team that isn’t likely to win any matches! Maidaan opens with India losing to Yugoslavia at the 1952 Olympics. The issue isn’t the loss. It’s the margin of the loss: we scored 1 goal to their 10. The commentator declares: “Mercifully, the match has come to an end!” Pity is the only emotion left, and AR Rahman’s score lays it on thick. It’s raining, but you could say that the sky is weeping, too.

And in parts, it works. I was weeping, too. There’s a small moment during the 1962 Asian Games involving a pair of gloves. The emotion is so pure, it’s hard not to be moved. It felt good to see India score a goal against the mighty France at the 1960 Rome Olympics. This film’s version of the coach’s speech is centred on the number ‘one’. It’s pretty good. Ajay Devgn plays the coach, Syed Abdul Rahim, who’s often called Rahim Saab. It’s a one-note performance, but that note gets the job done. He smokes non-stop, and his wife Saira (Priyamani, who makes every second of screen time count in a small role) asks him to quit. What he says is a lovely bit of writing. He says quitting needs strength, and at least for now, all his strength is focused towards creating a winning football team.

But at other places, the writing falters. The Football Federation and a powerful newsman (Gajraj Rao) are the main villains, and there’s not one convincing moment between them. Their one-dimensional “evilness” is insulting to the parts of the film that work. It’s also hilarious. Yes, Maidaan is intentionally a broad-strokes movie, but the people in these portions come off like caricatures, like they’d belong in the panels of a comic strip. Also, the way Rahim Saab finds his players – it’s like magic. He sets out of his house in Hyderabad and stops in Secunderabad, and instantly spots a dazzling street talent. One trip to Calcutta, one trip to Kerala, Bombay, Punjab – the team is ready. Given the length of this movie, why not spend more time on the effort it takes to find good footballers? Oh, I have to mention the Australian coach who touches a couple of Indian players and wipes his hand on his coat, while making a face. Maybe this really happened, but the acting is so bad that the racism doesn’t register.

Maidaan is much better when it comes to the scenes with Rahim Saab and his wife, or Rahim Saab and his boys. The players may come off like an undifferentiated bunch, but at least the “cocky talented lad who has to be tamed”-type clichés are absent. There’s a beautiful scene where Rahim Saab and his son (also a football player) have an emotional conversation. There’s another beautiful scene, where Saira sees Rahim Saab moping at home after being diagnosed with an illness – and she sends him back to work. And the football portions really work. They are shot well; Maidaan has scale. They are tense and exciting. And they survive the film’s tendencies for excess, where you get three problems when one would be enough of a hurdle to get through. It is good to see India win, only to be hit by the sobering reminder that India has never won anything significant again after the heydays of Rahim Saab. As I said, there’s a constant undercurrent of sadness. Maidaan should have been much better, but at least on the big screen, it has its moments.

Rate Maidaan Movie - ( 0 )
Public/Audience Rating
Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.