Shabaash Mithu review: The film opens with a young Mithali Raj (Inayat Verma) and her friendship with Noori (a wonderfully commanding Kasturi Janam). Noori takes her to cricket, recognizes her skill, and makes her his MC Sher. The girls start playing cricket in secret till local coach Sampath Sir discovers them (Vijay Raaz always understands the assignment, here bringing his token hardened wisdom).
Srijit Mukherji’s film starts loud. Srijit’s flicks scream (Begum Jaan). Every emotional beat is emphasized. The story’s meaning shines through the shrieking in the beginning. Priya Aven’s screenplay focuses on the heartwarming bond between two girls for a long time.
Soon enough, we time leap. Mithali becomes Taapsee Pannu after seven years. (For much of this film, Taapsee is a 16-year-old, which is ridiculous.) But it holds without that). Mithali is selected for the national camp, but she quickly realizes it’s not what she imagined. Her teammates don’t like her because she’s young and inexperienced. She also learns the hard way that making it to the big levels of women’s cricket is just the beginning. The lifelong battle to be noticed, acknowledged, and taken seriously.
Shabash Mithu is strongest here. Where it soars above its harsh, heavy-handed packaging is in its intimate story about a little girl coming into her own and finding her voice among her new comrades. Sampa Mandal as Neelu steals the show thanks to Mukesh Chhabra’s casting. Here, the film is permitted to breathe and be before becoming burdened by her legacy and possessed by tick box achievements. Mithali is granted the freedom to be unassuming and human before she must confront sexist guys in boardrooms. Taapsee shines there, too. She navigates Mithali’s quiet battle by fitting in rather than standing out.
The tranquility doesn’t endure as we shift to an overlong second half that quickly becomes a clunky, dull highlight reel of Mithali’s triumphs. Sincere origin narrative becomes a fake success story. Showy, diluted external drowns out concentrated within. After a fight with sexist cricket administrators led by Brijenda Kala, Mithali momentarily departs the squad. (I didn’t know if she was fired or dismissed)
Shabash Mithu says a little more. I struggled to re-enter the movie. The film’s World Cup montage is one of the laziest and least inventive in recent memory. A hazy, repeating reel of actual matches with CGI performers. TV clip – wicket was taken – cast member’s reaction shot. Repetition. I lost track of time.
Not to mention all the cringe-inducing scenes along the road – a journalist asking Mithali whom her favorite male cricketer is, an uncle begging a bartender to change the channel because who wants to watch Indian cricket, etc. Why do sports shows need villains when women cricketers face plenty of obstacles? Mithali’s ex-teammate-turned-coach Sukumari is destroying her career throughout the filShabashash Mithu reportedly spans 20 years, yet the aging of Taapsee and the actors is sluggish. Her mother (Devadarshini) is consistent.
Despite its roughness, it seemed like a trip. In Shabaas Mithu’s closing moments, Mithali and her team are surrounded by little girls begging for autographs for Amit Trivedi’s Hindustan Meri Jaan. I loved every manipulative, traditional beat. Athletes and achievements recognized. Observed.