SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 5 APRIL, 2021
Saina - Parineeti Chopra At Her Best
A sports film is much more than a sports film. It was not even a genre in Bollywood till a few years back specially after Irrfan Khan won the National Award for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in Paan Singh Tomar.
If made well, it reaches beyond mere entertainment and sheds light on the particular sportsperson’s struggles who we know perhaps only by name and newspaper pictures on the specific sport he/she excels in.
But that is just the beginning. It underscores for the audience, the significance of determination irrespective of circumstances, focus and the real aim of being the best in the sport one has chosen to excel in.
Saina Nehwal is the only Indian badminton player to have won 24 championships among both men and women in India. But these statistics appear only at the end of the film while the film decides to close in on her long struggle to make it to the winning point.
Saina is a fictionalized account of the trials, tribulations and final success of badminton champion Saina Nehwal with Parineeti Chopra “impersonating” her on screen. For a Bollywood actress enveloped by thousands of fans and the aura of glamour around her, to strip herself of every screen role she has portrayed till now and forget she is a Bollywood star is not an easy job.
But Parineeti has done it. Which is a face-saver after the mixed response her earlier film Sandip Aur Pinky Faraar and the thumbs down to Girl on the Train released on Netflix recently.
The role Parineeti has played demanded long hours of real practice on the courts and the net. It is not possible to have a ‘double’ to play her as the real action is generously spread right through the length and breadth of the film.
The stolid support of Saina’s father (Subhrajyoti Barat) and the constant pushing by her mother Usha Rani ((Meghna Malik), a former player herself, who leaves no stone unturned to fulfil her own dreams vicariously through her younger daughter who looks at her mother and goes ahead to fight when she is only eight. She does not really understand what she is expected to do except keep on winning, winning and winning because that is what her mother wants.
The wide-eyed, eight-year-old Saina (Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye) is brilliant and probably cast because she is a budding badminton player herself. But we see that Saina has magic built into her wrist enough to hold it like a weapon instead of holding it like a sport equipment as the coach in her first training camp points out with a smile.
Her smashes, serves, clears, drive and drops are a treat to watch specially when we are conscious that she is not a badminton player at all but is acting in front of the camera “pretending” to be one.
Producer-director Amol Gupte has created a tightly-knit script to focus on practice, performance, winning, losing, practice, performance and the cycle goes on almost without break except for the active participation of her family, her coaches and her badminton friends one of who, now an Arjuna Award winner, she has married recently.
But the romance is hardly touched upon because Gupta brushes it aside to focus totally on the life of Saina, her relationship with her three coaches one of who she falls out with and goes back to, bringing in her conflict with coach Gopinath which is portrayed here as Rajan performed with just the right touch of subtlety, satire and humour his role demands by Manav Kaul.
Saina’s father going from one parent to another to ask for shuttle cocks and then taking a loan from his boss to buy dozens of shuttle-cocks for Saina after a coach pokes him for borrowing shuttle cocks and cannot buy them for his daughter! This is a good touch which drives home the point that without a supportive family, you cannot make it to the top.
The same support she gets from her batchmates at the camps, all boys and their lives are concentrated on playing and making it big. But Saina is also shown to be very close to her parents though why the script decided to marginalise and side-track the elder sister’s role in Saina’s life remains a mystery.
Another small scene shows Saina raising her hand high, and the only person in the big group accepted for training at Rajan Academy when Rajan asks the group who wants to be the World champion. Rajan offers a slight smile of amusement but seems happy.
The film also points out how endorsements and high-paying brands can take a toll on a sportsperson’s performance who is likely to be tempted by the money that comes in. The accident during a match in which Saina’s ankle suffers a bad injury has signs of her career collapsing around her ears.
But this does not happen. Though Rajan refuses to take her back in his training camp, an angry Saina decides to join another camp at Bengaluru and the family shifts there where they are currently based. The movement too, has been from Haryana to Hyderabad to Bengaluru but Kashyap is determined to
Meghna Malik as Saina’s mother has given an award-worthy performance, jumping right back from her long coma and jumping for joy at every win her daughter makes. That twinkle in her eye shines more and more with every triumph of her victorious daughter. The father is effectively quiet, low-key but thrilled all the same. Ehsan Naqvi as Kashyap, determined to be beside her right through is fresh, naïve and charming.
The sound track resounds with the sounds of smashes and serves and whoops and loud sighs, underscoring that this indeed, a film that is focussed on the badminton courts. The music is good but other than the theme song which goes – I do not want to be a pigeon, I want to be the sky – is perhaps, a bit too much.
The cinematography is truly good and so is the editing which must have been a real challenge for the editor. But the film belongs truly to Parineeti Chopra and that is perhaps how Amol Gupte would have wanted it to be.
The word “struggle” especially in the sports field, has many more dimensions than our struggles in our ordinary lives. In a poor country like India where cricket is treated like the “King” and “aristocracy” is still sustained through a sport like billiards and golf, most sportsmen and women are marginalized and fall by the wayside. There have been some wonderful films like Mary Kom and Soorma.. But no Indian filmmaker has ever thought of making a film on the struggles of National-level boxer Krishna Routh who has now been reduced to a sweeper in Howrah. But the world we live in, is like this only.
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