Shabaash Mithu stands out because no one takes a cup home, but it teaches you that winning a cup is necessary to make you a winner. Directed by Srijit Mukherjee, the biopic on Mithali Raj, former captain of the Indian women’s cricket team, is not a chest-thumping, adrenaline pumping sports film. In fact, it is much like Raj—quietly determined, steady and leading a team without long speeches.
Taapsee Pannu is restrained and realistic in her portrayal of the ex-Indian skipper, and is successful at bringing her quiet resilience to the fore. A clear career best from Pannu, who leads the film while being supported by a stellar cast, comprising Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala and Mumtaz Sorcar, among others.
Women in Blue
The best part about Shabaash Mithu is that there are no conventional male heroes— it is female solidarity that propels the narrative.
Mukherjee traces ‘Mithu’s’ journey from dancer to cricketer in a middle-income Tamil household in 1990s Hyderabad, highlighting her endearing bond with Noorie, (Kasturi Jagnam) the bosom buddy who encourages her interest in cricket until she is discovered by coach Sampath Kumar (Vijay Raaz).
Vijay Raaz, being the phenomenon that he is, is brilliant as Raj’s coach, doing justice to Kumar’s tough-as-nails personality—quite literally, as Kumar drives tacks through her shoes to keep her foot in crease while batting.
From four women sitting in the stands of a cricketing ground in England to facing collective hurdles in team building, the film is peppered with interesting and emotional moments from Raj’s life.
Shabaash Mithu also touches on important issues of privilege and bullying without sounding preachy. Sampath points out that Mithali comes from privilege while others in her team, like Jhorna, a reference to Jhulan Goswami and many others, come from underprivileged households. Despite being strong-armed by these teammates, Mithali focuses on her ‘women in blue’ dream, uniting players from all social and financial backgrounds in the process. She holds on to the first ever lesson Noorie taught her—cricket is friendship.
The film is a glimpse into the struggles of India’s ‘women in blue’—from lack of matches, payments, quality coaches to even jerseys, Shabaash Mithu will break your heart and also make you angry. And it will feel a million times worse because it all happened in real life.
One powerful moment is when four players, including Mithali, are forced to urinate by the road because there are no washrooms for women where they play. Ironically, they relieve themselves next to a poster featuring the men’s cricket team—a reflection of sexism and bias in the Indian sporting world.
Story shines despite dull music, editing
The music by Amit Trivedi hampers instead of making the emotional bits in the movie impactful. Silence and close-up shots would have been a much better strategy. While the songs are soothing, they aren’t exactly memorable. The editing could have been much crisper and that makes the film slower and takes away some of its impact.
However, Shabaash Mithu deserves a watch for its beautiful portrayal of the woman who took India to the cricket World Cup and made sure that women in blue are recognised. Watch it for Taapsee, and for the woman who fought patriarchy in India’s most loved sport.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)