‘Shabaash Mithu’ made its way to the big screens on 15th July. Directed by Srijit Mukherjee the film tells the story of a legendary sports person in the history of women’s cricket Mithali Raj. The year is 1990 when a school-going girl named Noorie (Kasturi Jagnam) is forced to enroll in Bharatnatyam Classes. And the reason behind her enrollment is she plays cricket all day and her mother fears that her this hobby of playing cricket is turning out to be too boyish.
In her dance class, she befriends Mithali Raj (Inayat Verma) and starts playing cricket with her. She advises Mithali to use her Bharatnatyam skills in her game of cricket. And the trick works and Mithali gets better at her game. One day, coach Sampath (Vijay Raaz) spots her and advises her parents to enroll Mithu in a cricket coaching program. The coaching helps her even more.
At the age of 15, Mithali Raj (Taapsee Pannu)is selected at the national level. She shifts to the Women’s Cricket Board sports facility and meets the other national-level players. The chief is sympathetic towards Mithu while she’s being bullied by the other players. However, Mithali wins them over with her attitude and her cricketing talent. The game is not just about the field but the prejudice against women’s cricket off the field and that’s what makes the film an inspiring one.
Sports biopics need a great sense of eye and are sometimes tricky for Bollywood. The makers cannot miss the wood for the tree and which is a necessary aspect of a sports biography. ‘Shabaash Mithu’ written by Priya Aven and directed by Srijit Mukherjee gives justice to the story by not going overboard with the plot. The film does not shy away from playing dot balls and does not wait for the right scoring opportunities. It unpacks the Mithali Raj story without any shrillness. From the Commercial point of view, it could be seen as a shortcoming but the narrative lends strength to the film.
Taapsee Pannu, the protagonist shines through her performance and immerses herself fully in the role. She brings out the personality of an athlete and a woman who feels real and convincing in situations that appear to be at the edge of melodrama. Her portrayal through sweat, tears, and hard work has given a real-life touch to the legend Mithali Raj.
An airport scene that precedes Mithali’s late debut in the 1990’s international game in England shows how uphill the climb was for an Indian women cricketer back then. In the scene where due to excess baggage the women cricketers are told to remove the extra luggage while the men’s team arrives at the terminal and receives a thunderous response from the other passengers. They are taken to the lounge with great fanfare. Much later in the film in an airport scene, a female fan shows where Mithali and her teammates stand in relation to the male cricketers of the country.
The screenplay is unable to avoid the fall of a single cricket figure at the expense of all the other cricketers. Cricket is a team sport and Mithali couldn’t have achieved what she did without the support of her teammates chipping in at her crucial points in her career.
In the cricket action sequences especially the ones in the final stages of the film, archival footage is blended with the filmed ones. There are times when you wish to slow down and not skip from one match to another. It creates a muddle while skipping the proceedings.
But all the things considered overall the film is a washout. The steady performance by Taapsee Pannu and the occasional false stroke made an impact on the cricket fans whose feats transformed the cricket fortune of women in India and made it the most popular sport puts enough to the scoreboard without any substance dismissal at the innings.