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Saina movie review: Biopic of the badminton champion is better on the court than off it

In Amole Gupte’s biopic Saina Nehwal, everything is expected to be about badminton. sport appears in almost every scene in the portrait from the cradle to the present. it begins even before saina has appeared on the planet. her mother usha rani is a district level player and her father harvir has also handled the racket.

usha rani is the one who takes the initiative to make saina a champion and the first Indian woman to reach the highest ranking in badminton. usha rani pushes, cajoles and even threatens her daughter into dominating the sport, foreshadowing her later relationship with an even older foreman.

Reading: Who is rajan in saina movie

like taare zameen par, gupte’s screenplay about an artistically inclined dyslexic boy, and his film hawaa hawaai, about a talented figure skater, saina explores the relationship between prodigies and their mentors. Gupte’s depiction of Saina Nehwal’s pioneering achievements follows the familiar rhythms of the sports biopic, but is stronger when she examines his life-changing entanglement with his assistant coach.

This trainer is not identified by name. For reasons that are unclear, Pullela Gopichand, who trained Saina Nehwal to international glory, is portrayed by the fictional Rajan (Manav Kaul). Rajan arrives at the right time in Saina’s race. saina (parineeti chopra) has worked his way to victory, playing an aggressive game and following his mother’s high-dairy diet to the last drop.

rajan changes more than saina’s eating habits. he replaces his mother as the authority figure in his life. grueling training at the rajan center produces results, but it’s never enough for the terrifyingly focused and clinical trainer.

we have a tendency to see dreams that come true too easily, says rajan to saina. it shows her difference between supernatural talent and assiduously sculpted brilliance (champions are not born but made is the motto of the academy she runs). however, rajan’s game strategy, which could have provided a deepening understanding of his contributions to the success of his protégé, remains unexplored.

Parineeti Chopra and Manav Kaul in Saina (2021). Courtesy Front Foot Pictures/Amole Gupte Cinema/T-Series.

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Rajan’s preoccupation with discipline and Saina’s wandering attention tear apart the match-winning pair. The tensions between trainer and shuttler, which are based on real-life events, supply a sense of drama to a movie that is in danger of being reduced to a series of fast-moving montages. Piyush Shah’s cinematography and Deepa Bhatia’s editing bring out the zing in this indoor sport, but it soon becomes apparent that the narrative needs to slow down a bit.

Portrayed as a reserved and obedient student, Saina finds her voice when Rajan loses interest in her progress. Fighting against professional failures and injuries, Saina overcomes her obstacles to finally emerge as the heroine of a saga written by others until then.

The film handles this equivalent of a bad divorce fairly and scrupulously, suggesting that the blame, if any, lies with both parties. Manav Kaul balances Rajan’s necessary ruthlessness with his understanding of what it takes for Indians to excel in a game dominated by other countries.

as a sports film, saina is concerned with highlighting the commitment and sacrifice that players and their families demand. From training scenes to re-enactments of big matches, the film shows an admirable commitment to making badminton sexy for lay viewers. parineeti chopra is also more comfortable moving on the pitch than off it. Chopra sweats a lot as an athlete, but he’s icy cold in rest mode.

The match scenes are exciting in themselves, which makes gupte’s decision to include sentimental songs and a sweeping background score disconcerting. Fortunately, the film is free of flag waving, but the intrusive music lessens the impact of watching the sport on a big screen.

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The overwritten script, which includes a voiceover of its theme, still stops short of revealing its inner life. biographical films and sports documentaries often seek to uncover the unknowable: the superior force that drives athletes to excellence.

also in saina, there are efforts to understand the workings of saina’s mind. But given that the film is as obsessed with badminton as Saina Nehwal probably is, and not interested in anything to round it out, there are mere glimpses of what she must be like off the court. a love song with fellow player and childhood sweetheart kashyap (eshan naqvi) and a handful of scenes with saina’s badminton friends is all we get through the layers.

Eshan Naqvi and Parineeti Chopra in Saina (2021). Courtesy Front Foot Pictures/Amole Gupte Cinema/T-Series.

If valuable lessons were gained from losses in between the victories, they don’t make it to the movie. The monomaniacal approach to mapping Saina’s professional glory diminishes some of its more interesting supporters. Saina’s mother, played with feistiness by Meghna Malik, gets short shrift after her early role in honing Saina’s abilities. Kashyap, modelled on Saina Nehwal’s husband and national-level player Karupalli Kashyap, is similarly reduced to an ardent cheerleader.

attempts to trace saina’s prowess back to her haryanvi heritage (endurance and perseverance are in haryana soil, it seems) are neither here nor there. The film pays a warm tribute to the player who put Indian badminton on the world map, but the essence of her brilliance doesn’t come out of the bottle.

Also read:

pause, rewind, play: how saina became the first Indian badminton star to be ranked No. 1 in the world

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