Can assure you all exploits that makeup Mithali Raj legend are there: Srijit Mukherji on 'Shabaash Mithu'

Srijit Mukherji said, "We avoided the repetitive nature at several points. I can say that it’s not a typical underdog story ending in a victory.”
Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj in the latter's biopic 'Shabaash Mithu' (Photo| Twitter)
Taapsee Pannu as Mithali Raj in the latter's biopic 'Shabaash Mithu' (Photo| Twitter)

Srijit Mukherji pegs Shabaash Mithu as an ‘active biopic’. The descriptor fits, given how, while they were shooting, cricketing ace Mithali Raj was still in action. The legendary Indian women’s cricket team captain announced her retirement from international cricket on June 8. Taapsee Pannu, the star of the film, shared a list of Mithali’s achievements on social media: Youngest ODI captain, highest run-scorer in international debut, only Indian captain to lead in four World Cups, and more.

It’s a list where the spectacular meets the near-impossible. So, how do you fit all of it into a film? “I can assure you all the exploits that make up the Mithali legend are there,” assures Srijit, who took up the reins from Rahul Dholakia as director. The pandemic enforced several logistical challenges on the team. The climax, for instance, had to be reworked—they couldn’t possibly mount an entire World Cup in a bubble. Srijit’s solution was adopting the ‘footage approach’, combining broadcast footage (or what looks like it) with live-action shooting at Lord’s.

combination of film and broadcasting cameras,” the director explains. “I had someone from the world of cricketing broadcast to assist with that.” Before production commenced, he recalls having a long conversation with Mithali, discussing her stance and backlift. Later, he padded up with Taapsee during early morning net practice. Most of the players in the film—barring Taapsee and Mumtaz Sorcar, who plays pacer Jhulan Goswami—are state-level cricketers. Srijit himself had played cricket till the university level, and even served as an IPL commentator.

In fact, if his first film, the Bengali-language Autograph (2010), had not worked, he would’ve sought out a career in cricket journalism. “When I was working as an economist in Bangalore, my office was close to the Cricinfo office. I had my eyes on that in case I failed as a filmmaker.” Despite the incredible nature of Mithali’s story, and people’s relative ignorance of women’s cricket in India, a shadow remains. Sports biopics in India are rarely unique or formally inventive (a recent exception was Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund). Many follow the same underdog-struggle-victory template.

Srijit, asked about the repetitive nature of these films, assures that such is not the case with Shabaash Mithu. “We avoided that beat at several points. I can say that it’s not a typical underdog story ending in a victory.” Srijit, one of the top filmmakers in Bengal, has been racking up one Hindi credit after another. His most recent film, Sherdil, opened to mixed reviews across India (he’d previously directed Ray and Begum Jaan in Hindi).

It’s not just him; many Bengali actors (Parambrata Chatterjee, Jisshu Sengupta, Abir Chatterjee), directors (Suman Ghosh, Abir Sengupta) and composers (Jeet Ganguly, Neel Adhikari) have been steadily crossing over to Hindi. Srijit attributes this phenomenon to the rise of OTTs and a push for cross-regional casting and hiring. The audience, too, has been opening up. “We are finally approaching a united Indian film industry,” he says. “There is now a Fahadh Faasil fan club in Kolkata.”

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