Mr. & Mrs. Mahi: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor Deliver a Match-Saving Partnership
Mr. & Mrs. Mahi: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor Deliver a Match-Saving Partnership

Mr. & Mrs. Mahi: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor Deliver a Match-Saving Partnership

Directed by Sharan Sharma, who directed Gunjan Saxena, the film is partly a sports drama and partly a social critique.

Director: Sharan Sharma
Writers: Sharan Sharma, Nikhil Mehrotra
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Janhvi Kapoor, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Zarina Wahab

Runtime: 138 minutes

Available in: Theatres

Around thirty minutes into Mr. & Mrs. Mahi, a failed cricketer (Rajkummar Rao) discovers that his wife (Janhvi Kapoor) is a die-hard cricket fan. It’s their wedding night, and she made an excuse to sleep early so that she could secretly wake up to watch India play in Australia. (The time checks out – the 4.30 AM alarm rings differently for Indian fans who’re finally being rewarded after decades of Aussie-land trauma). But the man is not upset; he’s excited that this young woman, who was a stranger to him only weeks ago, shares his obsession. Their Dhoni-lite names should have been a sign: Mahendra “Mahi” Agrawal and Mahima “Mahi” Sharma. He joins her on the couch, telling her proudly that he’s played club cricket. She starts to say something about herself, but Ishant Sharma’s bowling to Aaron Finch in the Adelaide Test distracts her; she predicts an in-swinger and the batsman – as well as her husband – is bowled over. Later on, she inspires a bitter Mahendra to give his career another shot. He does. 

The point being: Sharan Sharma’s film opens like a conventional sports drama, where an underdog hero oozes main-character energy. Love is his catalyst. His wife not finishing her sentence that night implies that this isn’t her story. Midway through, the film becomes an unconventional sports drama. Mahima quits her medical career and becomes the star cricketer; her seemingly supportive husband – who is also her mentor and coach – can’t handle that he isn’t the protagonist anymore. She gets the fame he wanted. Her unfinished sentence was that she used to play gully cricket; now this is her underdog story. It’s like Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020), Sharan Sharma’s debut, replacing the unconditional love of a gently progressive father with the conditional love of a gently regressive husband.

But I like that Mr. & Mrs. Mahi is neither and both. It is in fact a social drama disguised as competing cricket movies. 

Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi
Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi

Challenging Conventions

Imagine a culturally adapted version of Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers, but where the lust-triangle-tennis metaphor is instead an arranged-marriage-cricket metaphor. Its gender commentary is embedded in the lexicon of the sport. An Indian husband struggling to relegate his ego to the background translates into a former player struggling to be a selfless coach. An Indian wife hesitating to realize her agency translates into a female cricketer striving to realize her talent. A man refusing to land a trophy wife translates into a man craving validation through a trophy-winning wife. A mother puncturing the patriarchy of her household translates to a daughter-in-law breaking the cycle. An arranged marriage translates to a match-saving (as opposed to match-winning) partnership between two individuals in a team game. The ‘team game’ emerges through some nice touches: The couple continues to live with his parents despite Mahendra’s spat with his dad. Mahima’s father is disappointed too, but there’s no disowning or long-term sulking involved. The family, for better or worse, remains their unofficial support system. 

The ‘partnership’ emerges through the film’s courage to choose a middle ground between lofty themes. For instance, it resists the temptation of introducing Mahendra as an unlucky victim of the system – he is revealed to be an average batsman who only played for himself. The film opens with a club final where a young Mahendra hogs the strike and runs his teammate out to woo the selectors. But he fails; he blames his fate on the “two inches” between a six and a catch. A few scenes later, a real-world version of his batting plays out: By exposing his father’s lies about his accomplishments, Mahi runs him out to woo his ‘selector,’ Mahima, after their first meeting. This time he wins – she is disarmed by his integrity and agrees to marry him. Mahendra keeps finding redemption through his budding companionship with Mahima. Even when he tries to make a comeback, the sport seems to have moved on; he can’t connect a single ball. A beat later, his little speech connects Mahima to her childhood dream; she never moved on. It takes Mahendra a while to realize that he can redeem himself as a person, not a player. Theirs is a match made in heaven, not a match to be played in hell. Being a coach – an unseen, unsung hero – is the ultimate form of atonement for someone like him. 

Similarly, Mahima’s arc finds that charming middle ground, too. At no point does her journey become a feminist statement about how a wife’s dependence is her biggest weakness. Instead, the screenplay contextualizes that dependence and, for a change, suggests that there’s no shame in needing the other person. There’s no shame in building a partnership; it’s more plausible than winning the match single-handedly. What this does – as the final match suggests – is let Mahima expand the concept of empowerment and hit the winning runs, but without erasing the influence of Mahendra’s role. (Gambhir would be proud). It’s sort of fitting that her monologue at a press conference subverts the meaning of “woh” – a bashful pronoun traditionally used by women to refer to their husbands without taking their name in a patriarchal setting. It’s also fitting that the background score sounds like a superhero theme by the end, an upbeat nod to the institution of arranged marriage in a medium that often condescends on its reality. 

Janhvi Kapoor in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi
Janhvi Kapoor in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi

On the Back Foot

That’s not to say Mr. & Mrs. Mahi is flawless. Sharma commits to the volume, but the rhythm is a bit automated. The broad strokes are part of its language. The character transformations, for example, are too clean-cut. Mahendra sees Mahima smashing tennis-ball sixes and decides to hitch his ride to hers. All it takes is one pep talk – and her boss being (rightfully) rude – and she switches careers. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen (or that their marriage isn’t an enabler of their voices), but it’s too simplified. All it takes for Mahendra to show his true shades is one news clip that excludes Mahima’s mention of him. All it takes to change Mahendra and everything he stands for is a quiet chat with a parent. All it takes for his father to change is a hug. These are decades of conditioning compressed into a quickfire reckoning. The growing tension between the couple is jarring: Mahendra is so grumpy that there’s no room for narrative nuance. Worse, she doesn’t get the hint until it comes and hits her on the head (literally). Mahendra having a celebrity brother doesn’t work either. He exists to teach Mahendra the social-media game, but the quirk – like Mahi doing silly reels to promote himself – feels like a mandatory comic-relief trope. 

The cricket in the film isn’t bad. Mahendra trains Mahima to specifically become a six-hitting machine – so her weakness against bouncers is a nice indictment of how most cricket movies (read: Jersey, 2022) depict ‘talent’ as a six on every ball. But at some point, the pattern of the edit – bowler close-up, batter close-up, fielder reaction close-up, ball landing close-up – reveals its concealment. The action lacks visual variety, even if it’s at the risk of exposing the ‘performance’ of it all. The authority figures in the film are an issue, too. I get that having unreasonable adults makes the conflict-resolution process smoother, but it’s odd to see actors like Kumud Mishra and Rajesh Sharma (who also played Dhoni’s first coach in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, 2016) reduced to a single note. 

Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi
Janhvi Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao in Mr. & Mrs. Mahi

Rajkummar Rao is pitch-perfect when Mahendra and Mahima are in their honeymoon phase. Nobody does the bumbling beta-male like him. But he mutates into a small-town Ayushmann Khurrana hero the moment the conflicts begin; his chauvinism meter shoots from 1 to 100, with nothing in between. This tonal jump undid his turn in the recent Srikanth (2024) too. In contrast, Janhvi Kapoor’s performance is more consistent. Her character is a hybrid of the sheltered dreamer in Gunjan Saxena and the sheltered lover in Bawaal – “every marriage is like a cricket partnership” is an admittedly saner allegory than “every relationship goes through its own Auschwitz”. Sharma manages to weaponize her Bambi-doing-brave-things vibe better than most directors. It’s evident in how Mahima’s confident on-field demeanor doesn’t translate to a smarter off-field aura. The self-doubt makes her an unusual sports hero. The grit and miles don’t show, but it also gives Mahi a femininity that almost defies the masculinity around her. She was supposed to be a doctor, so her batting is anything but surgical. 

The tender father-daughter scene from Gunjan Saxena is a mother-son scene here. Mahendra’s mother (Zarina Wahab), whom the film barely acknowledges until then (reflecting the gaze in the house), notices that her son is sad and distant from his wife. Their conversation encapsulates the almost-goodness of the film. It begins with him asking a question that’s framed solely to highlight the irony of who it’s directed at – “How would you feel if you worked hard for someone you love and never got credited?” His lack of self-awareness is on brand, but the conceit is clear. She’s immediately going to reply with a readymade punchline: She, of all people, knows how it feels. But she resists. She speaks of how true love doesn’t demand recognition (a mom version of the “imandari ka ghamand” line leveled at Rao in Newton). All the while, you wonder if the film trusts the viewer enough to let subtext be subtext. You wait for her to say it, but the moment comes and goes. And then, just before leaving the room, she turns back – sue me for thinking of ‘Palat’ from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) – and says it. She flashes that martyr-like smile. It was inevitable. You wince. So close. Two inches away from the door. At least the film, like the real Mahi, took the game deep. 

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