Author-director: Amole Gupte
Occupation: Parineeti Chopra, Manav Kaul and Meghna Malik
Released in theaters.
Saina is no ordinary Bollywood biopic movie. There is no massive dramatization, neither the intent to clean up a celebrity’s public image nor the attempt to match the course of the story with the narrative. Saina by Amole Gupte is a biography about the Indian badminton player Saina Nehwal who managed to become the first Indian badminton player to be number 1 in the world in the sport.
We learn that Saina’s mother, a former district badminton player herself, wanted her daughter to be number 1 in the world. It appears that Saina’s training began when she was in the womb. Saina Nehwal’s successes are recent. However, we know little about their journey. In a country where cricket is a religion, most other sports have trouble keeping their heads above the water, including India’s national game hockey and soccer – probably the most widely played sport (by number of people) around the world. In these circumstances, Saina’s achievements deserve a special mention and, of course, a biography.
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But Saina’s real life has lacked the conventional drama that a film takes. Her family and friends supported her. She has always been a champion, not an outsider. How do you make a film about this life? A medium that needs drama that arises from external forces trying to push the protagonist down. Writer and director Amole Gupte (his credits are always written in small cases) focuses on capturing the essence of Saina’s journey which is to become number 1 in the world. There is no other goal in their life.
Gupte does not accept the clichés of biopic films. The 134-minute film quickly relies on optimism. There are no naysayers in Saina. Saina’s mother points the way to a badminton academy and soon boldly asks the coach to allow Saina to play in the junior championship. And then there is no looking back. The only two setbacks Saina faces are when her mother has an accident and another when Saina injures her ankle, leaving her bedridden for two months. Even in these two sequences, Gupte does not allow the melodrama to deprive the moments of its real heartbreak.
Read also: Director Amole Gupte explains why he preferred to make Saina biopic on badminton than any other sport
Parineeti Chopra does everything possible to make Saina as real as possible. She sums up Saina’s body language. I haven’t seen any actor get it right in biopics other than the late Sushant Singh Rajput in MS Dhoni Biopic. It’s nice to see Parineeti find her groove again. Meghna Malik as Saina’s mother Usha Rani Nehwal gives a delightful performance. Manav Kaul plays Saina’s trainer Rajan (presumably based on Pullela Gopichand). He always impresses – one of the few actors who gets less is more.
The film is shot properly (DOP Piyush Shah) and badminton sequences are skillfully done. There are also no slow motion shots of the sport – obviously badminton is one of the fastest sports. It’s harder than it looks on our TV / mobile screens. It requires absolute agility, endurance, hand-eye coordination and at the same time playing with your opponent’s mind.
Check out the trailer from Saina:
The music and score for the film is by Amaal Malik, but neither is worth remembering. Hindi films seldom convey the sport-technical details and restore the actual sporting atmosphere (time and place). Neeraj Pandey’s MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) is the most successful film in this regard. The production design by Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray in Saina deserves a mention to keep it real.
In summary, Saina is a story of hope and inspiration. It’s the story of a champion. And it’s worth a watch – no matter what gender or age you are. If you want to see it in movie theaters, wear a mask, use disinfectant, and maintain social distance.