Writer-Director: Amole Gupte
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Manav Kaul, Meghna Malik
Released in cinemas.
Saina is not your usual Bollywood biopic movie. There’s no massy dramatization, neither an intent of cleaning up a celebrity’s public image, nor an attempt of changing course of history to suit the narrative. Amole Gupte’s Saina is a biopic on the ace Indian badminton player Saina Nehwal who achieved the feat of becoming the first Indian badminton player, male or female, to become the World No. 1 in the sport.
We learn that Saina’s mother, a former district level badminton player herself, wanted her daughter to become the World No. 1. It seems that Saina’s training started when she was in her mother’s womb. Saina Nehwal’s achievements are in recent times. Yet, we know little about her journey. In a country where cricket is a religion, most other sports have struggled to keep their heads above the water, including India’s national game Hockey, and Football – probably the most played (by number of people) sport across the globe. Under these circumstances, Saina’s achievements deserve special mention, and of course, a biopic.
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But Saina’s real life has lacked the conventional drama needed for a movie. Her family and friends have been supportive of her. She has always been a champ, not an underdog. How do you make a film on this life? A medium which needs drama, which arises from external forces trying to push the protagonist down. Writer-director Amole Gupte (his credits written always in all small cases) focuses on capturing the essence of Saina’s journey which is to become the World No. 1. There’s no other goal in her life.
Gupte doesn’t indulge into clichés of biopic movies. The 134-minute film drives swiftly on optimism. There are no nay-sayers around Saina. Saina’s mother leads the way to admit her into a badminton academy and soon quite audaciously tells the coach to allow Saina to play at the junior championship. And then there’s no looking back. The only two setbacks that Saina faces are when her mother meets with an accident and another when Saina injures her ankle which makes her bedridden for two months. Even in those two sequences, Gupte doesn’t allow melodrama to rob the moments from their genuine heartache.
Also read: Director Amole Gupte shares why he chose to make Saina biopic on Badminton rather than another sport
Parineeti Chopra does everything to make Saina as real as possible. She gets Saina’s body language spot on. Haven’t seen any actor doing it so right in biopics except for the late Sushant Singh Rajput in MS Dhoni biopic. It is good to see Parineeti finding her groove again. Meghna Malik as Saina’s mother Usha Rani Nehwal gives a delightful performance. Manav Kaul plays Saina’s coach Rajan (presumably based on Pullela Gopichand). He never fails to impress – one of the few actors who get ‘less is more’ bang on.
The film is shot neatly (DOP Piyush Shah) and badminton sequences are done smartly. There are no slow-motion shots of the sport either – obviously, badminton being one of the quickest forms of sports. It is tougher than it looks on our TV/mobile screens. It requires absolute agility, stamina, hand-eye coordination and at the same time playing with your opponents mind.
Watch the trailer of Saina:
The film’s music and score is done by Amaal Malik but neither of which is worth remembering. Hindi movies rarely get the sports technicalities and recreating the actual sports atmosphere (time and places) right. Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) is the most accomplished film in that regard. Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray’s production design in Saina deserves a mention for keeping it real.
To summarize, Saina is a story of hope and inspiration. It’s a story of a champion. And it’s worth a watch – no matter what gender or age are you. If you’re planning to watch it in cinemas, wear a mask, use sanitizer and maintain social distancing.