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Maidaan - The story of Syed Abdul Rahim and India's 1962 Asian Games glory

Maidaan, the historical biography narrated the story of SA Rahim, played by Ajay Devgan, whose ability to adapt to Rahim's role was captivating.

Maidaan - The story of Syed Abdul Rahim and Indias 1962 Asian Games glory

Syed Abdul Rahim is India's most successful football coach with two Asian Games gold. 


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 22 April 2024 12:42 PM GMT

The much-awaited Maidaan - the Bollywood movie, has finally been released across theatres in India on Thursday, April 11, delayed by a day to commemorate the occasion of Eid in India.

The historical biography narrated the stories of legendary Indian coach Syed Abdul Rahim, played by Ajay Devgan, and the golden era of Indian football, an era (from 1952 to 1962) that Indian football never again could emulate.

The movie started with the scenes of India's poignant 1-10 defeat to Yugoslavia at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics under slushy conditions. A moment that would change the way Indians played football.

But the very fact that Rahim was not in charge of the Indian team during the defeat was fabricated. Balaidas Chatterjee, who travelled with them as the team manager, had to coach the team as Rahim was down with flu.

We also missed the other sides of India's defeat in the Helsinki Olympics. The infighting in the team. The very fact that East Bengal’s Samir (Paltu) Roy was discarded from the team citing a bogus reason of ill-health, upset six East Bengal players who had formed the core of the national team.

The first half was scrappy with Rahim, on a mission to transform Indian football, scouting players like Tulsidas Balaram, PK Banerjee, and Chuni Goswami under dramatic conditions much different from what the players themselves had described in the media and books in the past.

Balaram, by his admission, was scouted by Rahim from a local Hyderabadi lower league final between Ryders Club and Grass Hoppers, not from the street, as shown in the movie, displaying his dribbling skill.

The intent was to bring the story down to a coach battling cancer and finding solace in football. Ajay Devgan was fabulous, but the movie was not.

Melodrama prevailed over truthfulness; the sagacity to preserve the historical significance of the subject was missing. The movie is about a popular persona and a historic moment in Indian football. But the veracity of facts was compromised for what? To maintain the tempo of the script?

A teacher by profession at Zamistanpur High School [later Musheerabad Public High School] Rahim was a staunch advocate of the Hungarian style of passing football. He undertook a journey to the Soviet Union, then a top football-playing nation alongside Hungary following the Helsinki debacle.

Going there, their robust infrastructure, the modern coaching methods, and the varied formations used by the trainers fascinated Rahim. He observed their pursuit of excellence closely. Once he returned to India, Rahim, based on his new learning, conveyed his recommendations to the AIFF.

But nothing about Rahim's meticulous preparation to coach the Indian team was displayed. The movie was not convincing enough when it came to how Rahim became a great coach in an era when possessing football information was difficult. A cost of oversimplification!

It seemed the director, Amit Sharma, was in a hurry. It was apparent that he did not delve much into the subject and tried to cover up the facts with theatrics. The idea was to reach the climax - Rahim suffering from cancer and India's 1962 Asian Games gold medal-winning moment.

Abysmal research and fictitious characters popped up among the genuine personalities. Goals and events were not in sync. India did not lose to Korea 4-0 in the first match, India suffered a 0-2 defeat in their opening clash in the Asian Games in Jakarta. One may say it was done for the sake of upholding cinematic value. But this is a movie about a legend of Indian football, a historical document.

Missing pieces

SA Rahim was much more than this. Many sheds of him would define him as a once-in-a-generation coach and person. His extensive research about football around Asia and the world was not in view. Why and how did he shift to a 3-2-5 formation before switching to a much more fluent 4-2-4 from the very old 2-3-5 we got to know very little about that.

This was the time when the concept of coaching had not even properly arrived in India, further emphasising the brilliant footballing mind of Rahim and the telling impact he had on Indian football.

His very observations about coaching and development of Indian football - that could have been one of the most fascinating things to watch - were missing. His observation about foreign coaches was omitted. At a time, when India's reliance on foreign coaches is supreme, the movie could have provided us with valuable insights. Perhaps, the director thought these were not worthy of consideration.

In the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games, Rahim's perseverance to win the trophy could have been better depicted, but the director was more concerned about showing his fight against cancer.

The portrayal of Rahim spewing blood in the washroom was misplaced. The iconic moment of Rahim smoking his Charminar cigarette on the lawn of the Games Village on a pitch-dark night ahead of the final against Korea, with his four key players - PK Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Balaram, and Jarnail Singh - getting scared presuming the presence of a ghost was a big miss.

The victorious Indian team celebrate after winning the 1962 Asian Games gold in Jakarta.

And then when they confronted each other, Rahim, as Novy Kapadia would write in his book Barefoot to Boots, said in a husky voice, 'Kal mujhe aap logon se ek tofa chahiye. 'Kal aap log sona jit lo.' (I want a gift from you all. Win the gold medal tomorrow.)

Skillfully and wisely, the Pakistani hockey team supporting India, booed by the entire Senayan stadium, throughout the final, was not included. Maybe because the political environment is not safe to accommodate such a moving scene.

Similarly, more preference was given to Korean footballers' superiority over the Indians. And we get to know very little of Indian players' skills of the era. It was more of a reflection of the director's understanding of Korean and Indian football now. The depiction of the final, much different from what happened in Jakarta on September 4 afternoon in 1962, denoted that.

Several reports and books stated India dominated the final from the word go, outwitting the Koreans. But in the movie, you will find Peter Thangaraj always under pressure.

Why a journalist has so much power in the say of the Indian football team was also confusing. Who was Dutta Roy Chaudhary? The role of Manindra Dutta Roy, the then AIFF secretary, was huge in Indian football.

Many a time he was at loggerheads with Rahim over his selection of players, mostly from Hyderabad, and his demand for freedom in the footballing matter.

Rahim was a no-nonsense coach. He took a shot at the arm when he challenged Dutta Roy's claim of Bengal's superiority over other Indian states. The movie displayed the moment when Rahim's Hyderabad toyed with Bengal. Chuni Goswami, the player who could create magic with the ball, looked crestfallen once he was forced to toil to win the ball back. But Rahim's making of the Hyderabad Police as an Indian powerhouse was not considered. It was the team where he experimented with much of his tactics before applying them to the Indian team.

Surprisingly enough, very little has been told about Rahim's Hyderabadi players. It is perhaps because football in Hyderabad now amuse none. The industrious midfielder Yousuf Khan made a mere presence in the movie with Prajwal Maski, playing his role, hardly getting screen time.

Yousuf was one of India's most versatile players as was Balaram. But some characters were given more preference over others, and why others, who were equally pivotal in India's rise as 'Brazil of Asia', were put in the shadow was not understandable. Was it because the director wanted to uphold the cinematic value or was it intentional, influenced by people around the movie?

Had the movie made the character of Rahim more convincing, unleashing more nuanced details about him, a case could have been made for Rahim for a posthumous award. With two Asian Games gold, fourth place finish in the Melbourne Olympics and several domestic titles with Hyderabad and Hyderabad City Police, Rahim remained India's most successful coach. Nobody would dare to touch his feat, at least shortly.

It was understandable why the politics around Rahim and his players were downplayed. How a political party almost ruined Indian football's most precious moment was omitted. Maybe, because of the elections, these were overlooked.

The movie could have been made better, given the time the makers took, starting before the Covid-19 pandemic. Since most of the players passed away or have been suffering from dementia, we tend to accept the portrayal of the golden era of Indian football.

SS Hakim, the son of Rahim, too is no more. He was instrumental in the production of the Maidaan providing inputs and documents about his father and football of the time.

But you will enjoy the movie, if you are remarkably lenient about the dilution of history and facts and watch it only as another Bollywood melodrama.

In Indian football, facts and history get twisted easily due to zero preservation of data from the past, making it easy for anyone to mangle them as per their will. But there are documents available in the archive. Hard work and dedication are required to find out the correct data.

Biggest takeaway: Ajay Devgan's powerful acting

As cinema is a powerful medium, this portrayal of Indian football could dilute people's understanding of Rahim, the most pious man in Indian football.

However, from a cinematic point of view, the Maidaan will stand out because of Ajay Devgan's assiduous acting, and his ability to adapt to Rahim's role. It was fascinating. He was the dorsum of the movie. He successfully brought the late years of Rahim back to us with his dogged acting.

Rahim's fights with administrators are well documented, and the way Devgan preserved that in the movie with his powerful acting was commendable. The enchanting portrayal of old Hyderabad and Calcutta, the thriving house of Rahim, the matches, and the background score will keep you engaged as the movie progresses.

Rudranil Ghosh as Subhankar, Gajraj Rao as Dutta Roy Chaudhary, and Baharul Islam as Anjan were equally brilliant.

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