“Shabaash Mithu” draws our attention to the often-neglected Indian Women’s Cricket Team and the brilliance of Mithali Raj. Recently, I remember watching our Women in Blue in the Commonwealth Games with my cousins at a family gathering, something that would not have been this commonplace had cricketers such as Mithali Raj not fought for the exposure and rights of women in Indian cricket. Srijit Mukherji’s third Hindi directorial venture after “Begum Jaan” and “Sherdil” is mediocre in its making. While I appreciate that the film chose not to indulge in Mithali Raj’s personal life and kept it strictly cricket, “Shabaash Mithu” is too bland and limiting at times. Some of the film’s sweetest moments are when young Mithu learns to play cricket with her tomboy friend, Noorie.
‘Shabaash Mithu’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
In Hyderabad, Mithu was trained to be a Bharatnatyam dancer, and she met Noorie in her dance classes. Unlike Mithu, who was graceful from a young age, Noorie was a tomboy who was at her happiest when she played cricket. She had a loud mouth and challenged anyone who dared to make fun of her on the field. Her mother enrolled her in the dance class, hoping for her to be elegant and womanly. But instead of Mithu inspiring Noorie to become a dancer, she managed to convince Mithu to play cricket with her. It all started when Mithu and Noorie went to deliver a tiffin to Mithu’s elder brother during his cricket practice. Mithu caught the ball when he flung it in the air. Her brother was left annoyed, and he started to accuse Mithu of interrupting his game. Noorie could not tolerate the insult, and she fought with him on behalf of Mithu.
Mithu’s entire family, especially her grandmother, was extremely displeased with Noorie’s growing influence on Mithu. But Noorie’s eyes found a solution to their problem. She suggested that they use the washing paddle as the cricket bat, and that was how Mithali started batting for the very first time. She was taught the basics by Noorie, and they eventually gathered their friends to play for them. They became the Sachin and Kambli of their team, and Mithali learned that one of the most important aspects of cricket is the friendship between the players.
One morning, when a few boys found that the girls were playing cricket, they mocked their guts. But Noorie did not believe in giving up. She challenged the boys to bowl against Mithu. Even though she had a washing paddle in her hand, Noorie knew that her friend was extraordinary. The boys bowled the first ball, thinking that the little girls were delusional, but to their surprise, Mithali was no joke. With great determination and concentration, she tackled every ball masterfully. Coach Sampath watched her bat fiercely. He was impressed and wanted her to pursue her hobby professionally. Mithali’s family was surprised to learn that coach Sampath wanted their daughter to pursue cricket instead of their son, but nonetheless, her father agreed to her training. Noorie was trained to be a bowler, but her family was unaware of her interest. She lied for seven years, and when she finally confronted her father, he forced her to get married at the age of 15.
Noorie wrote Mithu a letter before leaving her house to get married to the man her father chose for her. She expressed how she could not convince her parents to support her dream, but she wanted Mithu to get selected for the national camp and eventually play for the Indian cricket team. Mithu was heartbroken, but her best friend’s absence forced her to put her best foot forward. She was not just playing to fulfill her dream but also to uphold Noorie’s wish. The selection committee was impressed, and she was called to join the national camp. While her parents celebrated the news, her grandmother and brother left the house disappointed. Mithali reached the Women’s Cricket Board, where she would train with other talented women cricketers, but what she thought was a dream come true turned out to be nothing less than a nightmare, initially.
How Did Mithali Plan To Change The Fate Of The Indian Women’s Cricket Team?
Mithali was not readily accepted by the rest of the team. She was called Miss Delicate for her lack of hardship in life. She struggled to bond with her teammates, and she was often made to feel that she was not good enough to be a part of the team. Mithali was advised by the Chief of WCB, Shantha, to be strong-headed if she wanted to sustain herself in the field. (Eminent cricketers are either discussed in the film on a first-name basis, or their names are altered, such as Jhulan Goswami becoming Jhorna Ghosh in this film.) Mithali proved herself in the warm-up matches. Before joining the Women’s Cricket Board, coach Sampath had discussed her teammates and how they were starkly different from her.
Most of the women on the team had to overcome extreme hardships to play for the team, whereas Mithali lived a comfortable middle-class life. He advised her to use the techniques she had learned over the years in her favor since that was her specialty. While they had their life lessons, she had her own method of looking back and learning. Mithali did just that. With every ball, she reminded herself to be iron-strong and withstand the fumes of her teammates. Her teammates started to accept that the youngest girl on the team was not a weak player. She was later informed by Shantha that if she managed to play well during the Ireland selection, she would become the youngest player ever to represent India. Mithali had expectations of her, and she managed to live up to them. While she excelled, the team captain, Sukumari, could not accept the sudden rise and popularity of young Mithali. Mithali, with her talent and team spirit, managed to impress her teammates, and they started to consider her a dependable member of the team.
The one thing that bothered Mithali was the fact that the nation lauded the Indian men’s cricket team but barely supported their women’s team. She shared her dream of the team being referred to as the “women in blue” who will be loved and cheered by the nation. While the dream seemed far from reality, it did comfort them in the cold English weather. But before the match in England, she received the news of coach Sampath’s death as a result of a bike accident from Sukumari. Even though Shantha had warned Sukumari to not share the news with Mithali before the match, she chose to do the opposite. She thought Mithali would lose her confidence, but she was proved wrong. Mithali was crushed by the news, but she was taught by her coach to play no matter what, and so she did. Her extraordinary performance impressed everyone, and she quickly became a favorite. Gradually, due to her accolades at a young age, she was appointed as the captain of the Indian women’s team. And the first thing she had on her mind was the support of the Cricket Association of India. The Women’s Cricket Board did not have the necessary resources to support the Indian women’s team, and she believed that if the CAI supported them, it could change the future of women’s cricket. After sending letters to bring about a change, the CAI merged with the Women’s Cricket Board.
While theoretically, it was supposed to impact them positively, they noticed that they were receiving what was discarded by the men’s team. Mithali, along with her team, met with the CAI chief to discuss how they, too, were working to build their identity, and they deserved respect just as much as the men in blue. After realizing that the CAI was not bringing about the change she had always dreamt of, she left cricket and decided to live with her parents. She learned to cook and clean and hoped to live an ordinary life. She could not bring the change she had dreamt of; therefore, she chose to leave her captaincy and her team. She was broken, but her team desperately needed her. After losing a series of matches, Sukumari was reminded that only Mithali could fix the condition of the team. Sukumari gulped down her pride as the team coach and called Mithali, requesting she join the team to play in the World Cup in England.
‘Shabaash Mithu’ Ending Explained: How Did Mithali Raj Change The Perception Of The Indian Women’s Cricket Team?
While the Indian Women’s Cricket Team under Mithali Raj’s captaincy reached the World Cup finals twice, the film focused only on the 2017 World Cup, in which India lost to England by nine runs. In their first match, Mithali reminded her teammates that, for some, it might be their last opportunity to play at the World Cup. Therefore, the last fight must be one of life and death. The team performed their best, shocking many who never assumed that women could play the gentleman’s game.
Mithali chose to speak with action rather than words, and she managed to shut down the worst critics with the swing of her bat. During the phase when she wanted to leave cricket, she met Noorie. After years, her childhood best friend asked her to play for every woman out there who was refused an opportunity to pursue their dream. Noorie watched her friend play at the World Cup with eagerness and excitement, believing that even though she could never reach the field, she did manage to encourage her friend to fulfill her dream. After losing the match against England, the team packed their bags with a heavy heart. But as they walked out of the airport, they were greeted by the media and fans. Mithali and her team had only dreamt of such a reception, but they never thought it was a possibility. They were overjoyed by the love and support shown by the people of their country. They did manage to make India proud, even if they did not win the cup.
After returning to the academy, a wave of little girls came running to them, asking for their autographs. Mithali and her team were able to teach little girls to dream of becoming a cricketer, a dream that was once laughed at. At one point, Mithali had gone running to Sukumari when she came to visit the academy during her prime years, and now she had become the inspiration of a thousand more. The women managed to get the respect that they were fighting for. Of course, the fight for equality of treatment is not over, but Mithali Raj carved a path for the future cricketers to follow. One of the most memorable scenes from the film is the one in which the women are forced to urinate in the open due to the lack of a washroom at the venue where they had a match. As they crowded behind the bush, they looked up and saw the men in blue featured in an advertisement. That sums up the condition of the women’s cricket team as opposed to the celebrated men’s team. “Shabaash Mithu” is a stepping stone in celebrating women in cricket. Though women in sports continue to be neglected as a result of a lack of exposure and the money-making business that dominates the world of sports now. Recently, during the Commonwealth Games, the video of Pooja Gehlot gained attention as she was in tears after winning bronze for freestyle wrestling, apologizing to her country for not bringing home gold. I believe female athletes are always under pressure to prove their talent a lot more than males, knowing how often they are believed to be a wasteful expense and can be discarded as unimportant. Women have learned to dream, but the dream can only be sustained if the world evolves to accommodate it.
“Shabaash Mithu” is a 2022 Indian Sports Biopic directed by Srijit Mukherji.