Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Vijay Raaz, Geeta Agrawal Sharma, Mumtaz Sorcar, Shilpi Marwaha, Devadarshini, Kasturi Jangam, Brijendra Kala
Director: Srijit Mukherji
A sporty flick but with a difference, for the focus is on women’s cricket – the lesser celebrated and under-appreciated form of one India’s most popular games. This new Netflix biopic of the celebrated former Indian team captain, Mithali Raj, has been trending since its streaming outing. So, is it worth all the attention?
Mithu (Pannu) is a gentle young girl who rehearses her Bharatanatyam diligently, perfecting every step to rhythmic perfection. In comes the stormy Noorie (Jangam), forced into the dance classes by her family in the hope of injecting some feminine spirit into the Tomboy. The two girls, from very different religious and cultural backgrounds in Hyderabad, go on to develop a strong bond of friendship that would last beyond their childhood frolics.
It is Noorie who instinctively taps into her friend Mithu’s batting talent, when she hands her a washing paddle for a bat after her cricket-loving older brother refuses to let her near the cricket ground. In contrast to her grandmother’s sexism in blatantly favouring her brother, her parents demonstrate a refreshingly open-minded approach to Mithu’s attraction of cricket, inspired by her hero Sachin Tendulkar. Her father enthusiastically ferries the girls to practice when the duo is talent spotted quite by accident by Coach Sampath [Raaz] – to the dismay of both her brother and grandmother.
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While Noorie’s dreams of competing at the national level come to naught, introvert Mithu soon finds herself thrust into the kind of limelight she has never craved. However, in the face of some very harsh sexism of the governing body of the game, Mithu finds herself drawn into the role of a rebel leader and captain. Will this talented cricketer succeed in taking women’s cricket closer to the grandeur enjoyed by the men’s team, or will she give up in the face of insurmountable adversities?
Being a biopic made up of relatively recent developments, there isn’t much of a mystery around the outcome of this sporting drama. But Pannu’s very assured performance as one of India’s most successful cricketers on the world stage makes the audience feel invested in her success.
The flow of the narrative does suffer from a lack of balance, with the cricket tournament shots packed into what feel like one long running take. However, it is the emotional moments and small triumphs of a seemingly losing battle to win over respect for the “Women in Blue” that make this a very worthy effort indeed.
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With conversations around women’s games being unfairly downplayed, or even ignored, currently dominating the discourse around the world, this film comes as a very timely reminder about why sport of all hues needs nurturing. The abundant talent of the players will take care of the rest.
Besides, ‘Shabaash Mithu’ is a ringing endorsement of the streaming trend, as it may have fizzled out quickly from cinemas but is now playing on a more welcome pitch online.