Simple, engaging biopic of badminton star

Last Updated 27 March 2021, 04:48 IST

In the first scene of ‘Saina’, the biopic of Saina Nehwal, the ace Indian badminton player (Parineeti Chopra) is having a match point. The camera zooms into a single drop of sweat trickling down from her forehead. She obviously wins the title and sets off on a celebratory run that looks suited for an endorsement video. The journalists, at the press conference, behave like cheerleaders.

The entire portion is stagey and lacks soul. Thankfully, the film picks up and concentrates more on the people who shaped and realised the dreams of the protagonist than on the on-court actions. It’s not a big complaint.

Amol Gupte, who wrote ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (2007) and directed the touching comedy-drama ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’, is on song while depicting Saina’s relationship with her mother and coach.

Casting is key in biographical films. Meghna Malik is delightfully over the top as a mother who values victory and nothing less. Manav Kaul, who plays national coach Pullela Gopichand, is superbly restrained. He is lovely to watch as a mentor who commands respect and expects discipline from his athletes. Of course, in the famous rift in the relationship, the film is sympathetic to Saina.

Though Gupte rolls out the film in ‘point A to Point B’ fashion, the research and detailing are impressive. A chubby-faced and not-so-fit Saina’s game initially rests on smashes. The transformation into an agile all-rounder is convincing.

As Gupte focuses on the making of a great player, he forgets to show the impact of such an inspiring career on the game in India. Saina and Sania Mirza were the first two to deviate the cricket-obsessed nation’s attention to racquet sports.

Saina, the Olympic bronze-medallist, ended a long wait of a role model in badminton since Gopichand. The response of badminton giants like China and Japan to an Indian’s rise to No.1 needed better treatment.

The film expectedly doesn’t dig deep into the Hyderabadi’s downslide. The climax, fittingly, is Saina’s battle against Carolina Marin, the legendary Spanish southpaw. But again, there isn’t a single mention of PV Sindhu, her successor and India’s current best player.

Parineeti delivers a simple performance, much suited to the film’s tone. Parupalli Kashyap, Saina’s husband, is a Commonwealth Games gold-medallist. But Gupte, refreshingly avoids his sporting feats and writes him as a caring and sensitive man supporting his lover.

‘Saina’ is a simple biopic, devoid of overt jingoism and needless melodrama. When there are too many similarly-presented biopics, simplicity is a welcome change.

(Published 26 March 2021, 19:21 IST)

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