Former India wicket-keeper and chairman of national selection committee Kiran More was involved in the making of the movie ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’ starring Sushant Singh Rajput. More, the movie’s cricket consultant, was tasked with helping Rajput bat and keep wickets like Dhoni.
From the helicopter shot, to the push to cover and his glovework, More spent many months explaining the movie’s lead character the nuances of Dhoni’s batting. On the day Rajput was found dead at his Mumbai home, More spoke to Devendra Pandey, reliving the days with the departed who was so successful in bringing the real Dhoni to the reel world.
I remember the moment when Sachin Tendulkar was left stunned when he saw Sushant Singh batting. Sushant was working on a biopic of MS Dhoni and I was asked by the director Neeraj Pandey and the producer Arun Pandey to coach him on wicketkeeping and batting. A few weeks into the training, I remember Sushant practising the famous Helicopter shot of Dhoni. That’s when Tendulkar came to the training ground at BKC Bandra, a Mumbai suburb.
Tendulkar was watching from the gallery and when I met him later, after practice, he asked me, “who is this boy? He is batting so well. Itni achi batting kar rah hai!” I told him that it’s the actor Sushant, who is preparing for a biopic on Dhoni. Tendulkar was so shocked and said, “he can play proper professional cricket if he wants to. He seems that good”.
I had first met Sushant at the Taj Hotel Bandra and since I was a wicketkeeper for India, the director and producer had wanted me to coach him. Everything was fixed and we discussed how we will go about it.
It was a challenge for me to make an actor play like a cricketer and that too someone unorthodox like MS Dhoni. Sushant came with his spotboy, security guard, and a helper for the first session and I took him aside to tell him that from next day, he should come on his own, pick the kit bag, and enter the ground. I remember telling him, if you want to be a cricketer, you have to behave like one.
He took it to his heart. From the next day, he would carry his own kit bag and walk into the arena. He showed tremendous discipline; no matter what late-night shooting he had, he would be on the ground the next day at 7 am. And on rare days he came late, he would gamely take the “punishment” of training for extra time or taking more catches than normal.
It wasn’t an easy role at all as he didn’t just want to hit the ball like a cricketer but he wanted it to do in the way Dhoni does. That style wasn’t easy but he worked so hard at it.
I never thought he would be so good, to be honest. He was hit on the face many times; on his chest and on the back as well. I used to get worried as he was an actor and his face is so precious to them but he never said anything. His hard work reflected in the movie. We have seen biopics of cricketers before like Azharuddin but Sushant was miles away in bringing the real Dhoni to the reel world.
He used to send me batting videos that he would do in his building compound. “Sir aaj yehi shot kiya, aaj woh shot kiya.” ( I did this today, did that). I remember he practised the helicopter shot for so many days to perfect it and the day he nailed it, he was so excited. “Sir, today I will only play this shot to all balls. How many times he whiplashed away that day! In fact, after Dhoni, if I have seen anyone play that shot the best, it has to be Sushant. He was that good.
He impressed every cricketer who saw him. Arjun, Sachin’s son, used to bounce at him and he would hook like a professional batsman. Arjun even asked him what bat he uses and whether he could get the same piece of wood.
We worked for nine months in all. Sushant was sincere, educated (he had done his engineering) and was willing to work hard. I remember he used to talk about wanting to shift homes from Versova to Bandra; he had told me he had seen a couple of houses. He wanted to buy a particular car. He wanted the good life and was ready to work hard for it. I was moved by his work ethic and gave him my India tracks and he loved it. He used to wear it whenever he went to see matches at the ground. What a story he had and that story sadly has now tragically cut short.