Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Mithali Raj(Taapsee Pannu) along with her teammates stand in front of the CAI in the hopes of fashioning Women's National Cricket team to greater heights when the chief official mocks them on their identity crisis.He calls up on his peon assistant and publicly asks him to name atleast a single female cricketer which he couldn't.
This scene single-handedly portrayed what our 'Women in Blue' were experiencing once upon a time-well,not long ago in fact.
Mithali fondly called as 'Mithu' met Noorie at her dance classes who instilled in her the love for cricket.Coach Sampath,who was highly regarded by young cricketers including Mithali's elder brother,Mithun(who himself was trying hard to be selected to the nationals team),once witnessed how Mithali batted well against a group of boys.Quite impressed,he convinced her parents to send Mithali to his coaching academy.
Mithali eventually got called to the national camp where she understood it was not easy being a cricketer among teammates who were quite rude to begin with.Slowly she found her rhythm and by her talent became everyone's favourite except the then captain's,Sukumari Marwah who despised her.
Soon,Mithu made her debut in the Indian colours against Ireland and created history straight away by notching her maiden ODI century on debut. At the age of 19,in her third test of her long career,she rewrote the highest individual score in Test Cricket by scoring a double-century breaking the then record. She eventually became India Women's new skipper.However she was quite disturbed at the present status of the Women's team in stark contrast to the Men's Team who were being lauded as heroes while people hardly knew about the existence of the women cricketers.After the meeting with the higher officials,she understood they were least interested in the upliftment of Women’s Cricket.
Mithali considered herself a failure for not being able to achieve what she had dreamt of.She quit her captaincy and went back to live with her parents leaving her dreams.However,Indian women lost their way in cricket with her departure and as the World Cup was nearing,Sukumari-now,head coach-decided to call Mithali back.
Mithali urged her teammates to play the tournament as if it was their last.She was the tournament's second highest run-scorer including a century against New Zealand.However they lost to England in the finals.But little did they expect that they would receive a whole-hearted reception at the airport by the fans and media.After returning to the Academy,a pack of little girls come running to Mithali and her teammates for their autographs.
The movie is a well-directed attempt at exposing all that was wrong with how the nation atreated its women cricketers.Mithali Raj picked up the bat when people least cared for Women’s Cricket.Hailing from a middle-class family,Mithali had every opportunity to carve an alternate career but she chose to stay with cricket.She believed women had the right to respect and the right to fight for their place in a male-dominated sport.While on their abroad tour the Women's team were made to recheck and cast away their luggages as the men's team were 'privileged' enough not to go through the regular security check. In another instance,Mithali was handed over a phone by a fan to click a picture of her with a male cricketer. Another painful scene was when the women had to crouch behind a bush to pee due to lack of washrooms at the venue site while an ad board featuring the men's team looked down upon them from the other end of the road.
The director has meticulously sketched Mithali's rise in cricket while paying equal attention to her personal life-her family,her training in Bharatanatyam,with special emphasis on her childhood. The movie clearly depicts the path less travelled was also the most difficult.Mithali ensured that the name of female cricketers are also read alongside their male counterparts.One of the best scenes in the movie was when Mithali was addressed a strange question from a journalist as to who was her favourite male cricketer.However,she retorts with another question whether he asks a similar question to a male cricketer about their favourite female cricketer.
What I liked about the movie
The best thing I liked about the movie was how the director could effortlessly strike a balance between her personal and professional life.Unlike usual biopics where only the career part is stressed upon,,here the director ensured it is a movie for the non-sports enthusiasts also.
Taapsee Pannu's class acting is of course the highlight of the movie and was indeed the right choice for the titular role. Inayat Verma who played the young Mithali also is a gem.The footages from 2017 World Cup were not overdone while the early days of Mithali's cricketing career have been recreated on real pitches throwing light on the efforts behind the scenes.
What I didn't like about the movie
Somehow,I didn’t like the fact that the real names of cricketers were altered. Similarly,as a fan of the star cricketer,I was expecting to see some real life footages of Mithali Raj in the credits section.Sadly,the film-makers merely reduced the tribute to a team photo which was grossly disappointing.This was in sharp contrast to what was depicted in movies like "M.S.Dhoni : The Untold Story" and "Kaun Pravin Tambe?"
Well,a biopic similar to "Sachin: A Billion Dreams" may be what we fans need!
So it takes us to the important question: "Has Women's Cricket found appreciation at last?" The answer,in my opinion,is still a No! Things have changed definitely for good but still the matches are not getting viewers as they ought to have.But one thing is certain: Women's Cricket in India is forever indebted to Mithali Raj for pioneering the cause for equality on and off the field.She has ensured that the Harmanpreet Kaurs, Smriti Mandhanas and Shefali Vermas can dream of playing for India and bringing glory to the nation as opposed to the odds pitched against them a decade ago...
So,did you watch the movie? How did you find it?Let's talk...
['Shabaash Mithu' can be streamed online on Netflix and Voot]