I am perhaps one of the few rare journalists who has spent quality time with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and yet, not once, have I been able to interview the man who won us two world cups. It’s not the lack of trying, let me tell you, but Mahi tells me that he just doesn’t do interviews any more. “If I were to give you an interview, I would be forced to give other interviews to some very senior journalists and that is something I am not prepared to do,” he told me not so long ago as we stretched on a football field in Mumbai on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Filmmaker Kabir Khan though had no such issues. At the screening of Roar of the Lion in Mumbai on Tuesday the former documentary filmmaker spoke about how the usually elusive superstar spoke for almost 8 hours during an interview for the Hotstar special. I am gutted, really, I had pitched for 15 minutes.
But MS Dhoni’s CSK story is not one that can be summed up in 15 minutes. The scars of the 2013 events and the silence that followed required a legit release. Looks like for six long years, MS has been wanting to tell his side of the story; the one that goes beyond the headlines. He perhaps had feared that his thoughts would be misread, misrepresented, misquoted. Kabir Khan seems to have provided Mahi with that protective cover. The fact that Dhoni Entertainment Private Limited is also one of the co-producer of the special only cements this idea (no attempt to point at India Cements here).
Kabir is the Executive Producer on the show that has been directed by Aamir Rizvi. The 30 odd minutes that were shared with the media present at the screening were slickly produced. Dhoni’s voice poured into my ears explaining what really happened post the spot-fixing and match-fixing fiasco. The 120 minute special will be available on Hotstar starting 20th March, but if the screened half hour is any indication then this one is going to interest many. Especially since MSD and the Super Kings will start the defense of their IPL title three days later against the Virat Kohli led Royal Challengers Bangalore in the tournament’s 12th edition on March 23rd.
Other voices from the world of cricket and CSK are also a part of the special and includes the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina, noted sports journalist Ayaz Memon, Michael Hussey and of course, N Srinivasan. In 2016, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story hit the big screen with Sushant Singh Rajput playing Dhoni to perfection. The film may have been a blockbuster but recorded Mahi’s life only till India’s iconic World Cup win in 2011. The IPL controversy, many felt, had been deliberately left untold. How did Kabir then convince Dhoni to open up? “Well the fact is it’s a show that has been made after the allegations have been cleared, they have come back. If the show came before then I understand that there could be people with apprehensions whether this is a case of whitewashing, is this a case of building a defense. For us, it is one of the greatest comeback stories. We wanted to hear it from the man in charge. For us to hear the story about what Dhoni went through emotionally was a huge excitement,” Said Kabir.
In the screened 30 minutes, Dhoni talks about the infamous Son in Law. Gurunath Meiyappan, along with Vindu Dara Singh was arrested on 25th May 2013 for allegedly illegally betting on the IPL. “To the players, he was never introduced as a team member, he was never the owner or caretaker… to us he was always introduced as the son-in-law,” he says.
After the ban, Dhoni regrouped and reconquered the IPL trophy in 2018. Something that wasn’t expected of him or the Daddy’s Army that he had collected for the 20-20 battle. But Dhoni has a way with people he leads on the field. Yours truly has experienced it first-hand on the football pitch; a sport Dhoni started off with as a child. Now I weigh a good 100 kilos, a majority of which is lamb chops and pork belly. Most days it really IS a stretch... to stretch. So this once I happened to be a part of Team Dhoni, struggling to stretch my hamstrings and the groin. He immediately came over and became a part of the routine. “At my age I stretch a lot because the groin is important,” he said. “People will never understand why we still play at this age, boss ko kya bolengay.” That day I did stretch more, I put in more effort on the field. I was confident that my groins weren’t goin’ to betray me. I even scored, some said it was pretty decent from a 42-yr-old. Only if I could document it, I would call it the Roar of the Loin.