‘Maidaan’ movie review: Ajay Devgn takes a straight shot at sporting glory

A scene from ‘Maidaan’

Maidaan, a heartfelt homage to the legendary football coach Syed Abdul Rahim, carries the torch for Indian football during its most illustrious era. The film’s own path to release faced challenges, much like the fluctuating fate of the sport in India. The film’s production coincided with the loss of iconic players P.K. Banerjee, Chunni Goswami, and Tulsidas Balaram, who secured India’s Asian Games gold in 1962 at Jakarta. Despite these setbacks, the final output, under the direction of Amit Ravindernath Sharma, triumphs with a portrayal of three significant victories on the pitch.

Front and center is Ajay Devgn’s immersive portrayal of the cigarette-loving Rahim, unveiling a forgotten chapter where India dominated Asian football. The film presents this slice of history without resorting to nostalgia, keeping the focus on the sport’s role in the dreams of India’s youth post-independence.

The film showcases underdog athletes facing off against Europeans without succumbing to overly sentimental storytelling. Furthermore, the film, released during Eid, avoids cliched portrayals of Rahim’s identity.

Maidaan’s defining moments are the dynamic sports sequences set to A.R. Rahman’s powerful score, a rarity in Hindi cinema. With Russian director of photography Andrey Valantsov capturing the on-field drama, viewers are brought into the visceral experience—the sweat, the blood, the adrenaline. Editor Shahnawaz Mosani expertly cuts to Rahim’s innovative 4-2-4 strategy, making the intricate tactics accessible and pulsating with excitement.

The script pays tribute to influential figures such as Jarnail Singh, Peter Thangaraj, and others, illustrating their pivotal roles. Yet the movie doesn’t shy away from the sport’s skilled players’ broader contributions beyond the central narrative.

Maidaan (Hindi)

Director: Amit Ravindernath Sharma

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Priyamani, Gajraj Rao, and others

Run-time: 181 minutes

Storyline: The inspiring journey of football coach Syed Abdul Rahim during the golden age of Indian football.

Amit, with an advertising background, showcases a polished production design. His transition from commercials to multifaceted cinema—previously witnessed in Badhaai Ho—avoids the overtly flashy style common in ad-based storytelling.

A still from ‘Maidaan’

A scene from ‘Maidaan’

The film steers clear of heavy dramatization regarding Rahim’s personal struggles with a terminal illness and familial decisions. Yet it occasionally lapses into the sports-drama cliché of depicting administrators as caricatured villains. At three hours, some narrative passages may test the viewer’s patience, prompting anticipation for the central football action.

While heroics are admired, the film doesn’t fully exploit the vibrant dynamics of the locker room. The ensemble cast, while compelling, misses the chance to delve into the cultural challenges of the era—essential themes like the Hyderabad-Bengal rivalry are merely hinted at.

Ajay Devgn’s compelling performance keeps audiences engaged, though nuances such as Rahim’s soft spot for Urdu poetry and his encouragement for his wife to learn English are underexplored.

A promising effort, Maidaan is an invitation for a new generation to translate their love for football from screens to the playing fields, challenging the notion that Rahim’s death marked the end of India’s football aspirations.

Maidaan is set for theatrical release on April 11th

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