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Not bowled over, still batting for Mahis

Not bowled over, still batting for Mahis

Though not all elements fall in place, the winning combination of Rajkummar and Janhvi has an unpretentious appeal.

Film: Mr and Mrs Mahi

Director: Sharan Sharma

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Zarina Wahab, Purnendu Bhattacharya and Arijit Taneja

Nonika Singh

Cricket unites the whole of India, so it can certainly be a unifier between husband and wife. Only ‘Mr and Mrs Mahi’ is not just about a couple’s love for cricket. Rather, it blends relationship drama with the sport that has millions in a thrall. No doubt cricket is the leitmotif here. The narrative begins with the failed ambition of an aspiring cricketer, Mahendra Agarwal (Rajkummar Rao). Like millions in this country, this Mahi (a tribute to Mahendra Singh Dhoni is obvious in the title) can’t make the cut. He is relegated to his father’s business, which incidentally is about sports equipment.

Five years after being rejected by the selectors, he is close to being rejected by an MBBS girl, Mahima, also Mahi (Janhvi Kapoor). For, isn’t Mahindra a failure by his own standards and especially those of his stern, disapproving father (Kumud Mishra)? But, Mahendra decides to be honest about who he is and tells Mahima the truth about what he perceives as the lack of success. She is impressed and voila, they are a couple. Soon enough, they discover common ground in cricket. Can he find his place in the Indian team, now that his other half backs his ambition?

A few conjectures later, we and he are introduced to Mahima’s enormous cricketing talent. He decides to be the ‘two-in-one, husband-cum-coach’. Wife is touched for igniting her dormant passion, and dubs him the ‘best husband’. But, is he really? All is well in this simple, sweet love story till a la ‘Abhimaan’ sparks of jealousy fly around. Only, this is no ‘Abhimaan’. The husband is not a star, jealous of his wife’s stardom; rather, he is seeking one through her. And in this conflict is grounded the film’s unconventional premise, and a thematic ambition that doesn’t soar to great heights, but stands firm.

In this Karan Johar production, things move at an even, almost gentle, cadence. Even though this Indian father thinks he can slap his married son and humiliate him at every disappointing turn, there are no sharp twists. There is no hullabaloo over the bahu suddenly deciding to play bat and ball. The film makes a point or two about fame, but more pertinently, on how behind every successful woman there ought to be a selfless man, not one spurred by his own desires. But it says it all without shouting. The messaging is obvious, but never over the top.

Rajkummar Rao’s character has many shades. Trust Rao to pull it off as the real hero even when the writing by Sharan Sharma and Nikhil Mehrotra is not pitching him as heroic. You see that in the opening shots; in his aside with a fellow cricketer on the pitch, he tells him to take a single and allows him to bat for the winning shot. Janhvi’s Mahima could have been restricted by that extra dose of diffidence and gentleness. But she is warm and endearing in her portrayal. Indeed, in a country like ours, such women who follow the lead instead of taking one abound. No doubt, feminism has a gentle face, too, and Jahnvi puts that face forward with delightful conviction.

Where the film also scores is that it doesn’t shout from the pulpit. There are no sermons on women’s cricket and it is shown as naturally as men playing the game. Mahima’s cricket training and actual performance on the field ring true. Janhvi emulates the cricketing shots well and her stance appears authentic. Of course, since the stakes of her playing are limited to her selection, there is no massive adrenaline rush in the cricket scenes, otherwise captured well by DoP Anay Goswamy. But then, ‘Mr and Mrs Mahi’ aims at tugging your heartstrings and like many films from KJo’s stable, this one directed by Sharan Sharma (of ‘Gunjan Saxena’ fame) does manage more than a handful heart-warming moments.

If only talented actors like Zarina Wahab had been given more space, perhaps the magic would have worked even better. But then, the self-denying Maa and what she stands for is always a winner, even when she is present in the sidelines and makes a mark in that defining one scene.

Though not all elements fall in place, the winning combination of Rajkummar and Janhvi has an unpretentious appeal and chemistry. Running in theatres, it is certainly watchable, if not unmissable.