'Maidaan' Stars Say The Sports Biopic Is About A Lot More Than Just The Power Of Football

Priyamani and Gajraj Rao open up about filming the Boney Kapoor movie about Indian football coach, Syed Abdul Rahim.

Ajay Devgn in Maidaan

If there are two things that many Indians can agree to love, they are sports and famous people. So, it’s no surprise that director Amit Ravindernath Sharma and producer Boney Kapoor have decided to combine the two in creating their latest film, Maidaan.

Delving into Indian football’s golden era between 1952 and 1962, the sports biopic chronicles Indian football coach Syed Abdul Rahim’s journey of forming the ultimate team. A team that went on to kick historic goals including becoming Asia's first-ever football team to qualify for the Semi Finals of the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. 

With Ajay Devgn at the helm portraying the late S.A. Rahim, actor Priyamani – who plays Rahim’s wife Saira – says signing onto this film was an absolute no brainer, and not just because of her charming co-star. 

While she had limited knowledge of Indian football herself, the 39-year-old only needed to hear of Rahim’s immense personal sacrifices, professional ambition and immense passion for the game to realise this story was worth telling on the big screen.

“I just absolutely loved the way Mr Amit Sharma narrated the whole subject to me,” Priyamani tells Draw Your Box. “I felt this needed to be told to the people… about Rahim Saab and his life, and the sacrifices [he made] to see that the team was formed.” 

Playing Saira meant that Priyamani was never actually anywhere near a football field, but rather the strong force in the family home who held things together when Rahim was focused on work. Without his wife, Rahim’s career success may never have been what it was. 

“She holds the fort when he's not at home. She is his backbone,” Priyamani explains. “She is his driving force when he is not feeling up to it. She knows that her husband is on the right path, and that no matter what, he has to achieve his goals and she’s always there. She's standing behind him like a pillar of strength.” 

Rahim came up against various forces that could’ve derailed his coaching approach that led to the Indian football team not only winning gold medals at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1962, but being nicknamed the "Brazil of Asia”. 

Without giving too much away, Gajraj Rao’s character appears to represent some of this external noise that Rahim had to deal with. Known for his roles in movies such as Badhaai Ho and Satyaprem Ki Katha, 53-year-old Rao portrays a high-profile sports journalist in Maidaan

Similarly to Priyamani, the actor says that hearing director Amit Sharma’s vision for the movie made it very easy to say yes to the project. The fact that the duo had an established working relationship from Badhaai Ho also helped. 

“He said, ‘Gajraj Ji, in my understanding and opinion, you should not follow Badhaai Ho’s success route. Don’t get into that trap of doing the similar kinds of parts. You should challenge yourself,” Rao recalls.

“When I heard the story, I had no clue about S.A. Rahim and that there was this gentleman in the 50s and 60s who created and did so much for Indian football. So… Amit Sharma, he is my S.A. Rahim,” laughs Rao. “He convinced me.” 

Gajraj Rao in Maidaan

Gajraj Rao in Maidaan. Image Source: Supplied/Zee Studios

Besides ensuring the project honoured Rahim and the other real-life people who are depicted in the script, the cast and crew were tasked with facing a few more unexpected challenges during filming. Rao reveals that it took almost four years to shoot the movie due to delays caused by COVID-19 and a cyclone in Mumbai that “destroyed” the sets. During this time, Sharma was a binding force for the cast and crew. 

“He stood his ground throughout the period,” says Rao. “He was able to motivate all the actors including Devgn Sir, Priyamani, all of the players and technicians. He’s like the real-life coach.” 

While this film strives to shine a spotlight on a sporting hero who redefined Indian football’s success, you don’t necessarily need to be a football or soccer fan to appreciate Maidaan.

“It’s basically a human story and more than football or sports,” says Rao. “It’s a human and courage story. [It’s about] how to hold your ground in whatever the situation is, and how to manage your family life and working relationships.” 

Maidaan releases in cinemas worldwide on Eid, April 10, 2024.