'Mr. & Mrs. Mahi' movie review: A confused tale of marriage, cricket and failed dreams

If the film takes itself as a romantic sports-drama, the chemistry between the leads is not sparkling enough.
YouTube screengrab from the trailer of 'Mr. & Mrs. Mahi'
YouTube screengrab from the trailer of 'Mr. & Mrs. Mahi'

For the unversed, this is not a biopic of Mahendra Singh Dhoni or a cricket allegory of the ex-skipper’s marital life. Another entry in the incoming Letterboxd list “Films where Janhvi Kapoor’s husband is an insecure manipulator”, Mr. & Mrs. Mahi is Bawaal (2023) if it were a sports drama. It is an Ayushmann Khurrana film with a bruised male ego but no venereal diseases. It also has elements of a diabolical version of Chak De! India (2007), where coach Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is empowering the women’s team only for personal fame and glory. What if all he was seeking was a garlanded welcome into the muhalla he was kicked out of for being a “traitor”. What if the famous sattar (70) minute speech was actually to garner likes on the gram.

Mahendra Aggarwal (Rajkummar Rao) is a failed cricketer who has been forced to join his dismissive father’s (Kumud Mishra) sports-equipment business. Sitting at the shop, he reads comics when he is not goofing up the orders. He is also envious of his younger brother Sikandar (Arjit Taneja), a soap-opera star. Mahendra’s marriage is set up with Mahima (Janhvi Kapoor), a doctor. The two don’t have much in common but on their first night, they discover a shared passion for a different kind of physical activity. The couple muffle their screams and jump in excitement as on TV, a player hits a six.

After realising that he has lost the youthful agility of a sportsperson and seeing Mahima hit perfect straight drives, Mahendra decides to coach her. He manipulates her into believing that her real passion lies in cricket and medicine is something she did on the behest of her father. It’s a sweet idea. A patriarch rubbing off his own parental trauma in the guise of women empowerment. But director Sharan Sharma and writer Nikhil Mehrotra choose to swim on the surface. A lot of cinematic liberty is also taken. Mahima, who was a gully cricket star as a child, is somehow trained in six months to play for state trials by a man who has been out of the game for five years. No amount of training montages could be convincing enough.

Discussions on suspension of disbeliefs aside, Mr. & Mrs. Mahi is too straightforward, too plain. If the film takes itself as a romantic sports-drama, the chemistry between the leads is not sparkling enough. Their love story is more a stepping stone in the direction of… I am not sure what. Rajkummar Rao laps up the role of a loser, miffed at his own mediocrity. He understands the assignment, although the film doesn’t let him explore the complex psychology the character seems to be offering. Janhvi, on the other hand, gets stuck in the stereotype of the gullible, homely, small-town girl. The makers also don’t delve deep into her needs and desires. She remains a stock character, a mere vessel to showcase Mahendra’s obsession with proving himself. Kumud Mishra is effective as the disappointed father.

Mr. & Mrs. Mahi, at most, is a shake-up to the tired genre of sports films in Hindi cinema. It is not exactly a patriotic story or a feminist tale. What it’s trying to tell is that fame is fickle but passion stays. That real joy comes from the act of doing something and not being applauded for it. That while telling a story of an insecure, devious man, makers still can’t afford to punish him too much. That women still need to be told by men to find their calling. That mothers know everything. That there is far too much to tell but nothing to convey.

Directed by: Sharan Sharma

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Zarina Wahab, Arjit Taneja

Rating: 2/5 stars

(This story originally appeared on Cinema Express)

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