Saina Movie Review: Parineeti Chopra shines in a safe yet smashing biopic
While there is a lot of coverage of Saina's on-court achievements, Amole Gupte pulls back quite a few punches to give us a satisfying but cloyingly safe film
Young Saina Nehwal (a brilliant Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye) hardly speaks a word in Amole Gupte's film. Not when she is pushed to wake up way before dawn to attend badminton practice 25 kms away. Nor when she plays against elder opponents and comes up trumps. Not even when she is slapped in public by her mother Usha Rani (a wonderful Meghna Malik) for winning silver and not gold. The first time she says something is when her father, Dr Harvir Singh Nehwal (Shubhrajyoti Barat lending gravitas to a subtle role) narrates a story about her mother's insatiable need to win. After the story, we hear Saina's voice for the first time. “Did she win?” she asks. From a very young age, Saina understands the one thing she needs to do — win — and follows it with singular focus. A second place finish is just not enough.
Director: Amole Gupte
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Manav Kaul, Meghna Malik, Shubhrajyoti Barat
When Parineeti Chopra steps into the court as Saina, the efforts taken by the actor are clear. From the walk and the furrowed stares to the overhead smashes and the forehand drops, Parineeti — the distracting prosthetic mole notwithstanding — aces the style of the gritty shuttler. The film too works when the focus is trained on Saina’s on-court achievements. The detours into her personal life acts as a distraction because they aren’t fleshed out enough. The film, which initially talks about how her family shouldered and sculpted Saina’s journey, doesn’t do justice to their involvement in her career after her ascent. Saina’s romantic angle with Kashyap (Eshan Naqvi) too follows a similar arc as he is reduced to a mere cheerleader. Not exploring their relationship dynamics feels like a lost chance.
However, the performances are uniformly on point, especially the coaches, Gopichand-inspired Saravadhamaan Rajan (Manav Kaul), Meru (Ranjith Reddy) and Vimal Kumar-inspired Jeevan Kumar (Ankur Vikal). At each phase of Saina’s journey they play the kind of mentor she needs. If Rajan is strict yet benevolent, Meru is the sacrificing coach who has his eyes on the future of his wards. Jeevan enters Saina’s life when she needs someone to boost her floundering confidence.
The highlight of this film is definitely the wonderfully-shot (Piyush Shah) badminton action. These sequences do justice to the sport too. Some of the matches and some of the comebacks by a shuttler known for her never-say-die attitude move us emotionally. Despite the foregone outcomes, the scenes keep us engaged thanks to the impressive music by Amaal Malik. However, what would have worked just with Parineeti’s performance gets a bit muddled at times due to the music prematurely spelling out the emotions for us.
Saina, the player, is known for her powerful smashes and her all-round court coverage. While there is a lot of coverage of her on-court achievements in Saina, Amole Gupte pulls back quite a few punches to give us a satisfying but a cloyingly safe film. This doesn’t mean Saina is disappointing by any standards. However, for someone who is constantly billed as a ‘sherni’ (tigress), the roars aren’t emphatic enough. Yes, she wins tournaments left, right and centre. Yes, her victories made the press paint her as a child prodigy, and rightfully so. Yes, she had a rather public fallout with her coach. Yes, she fell in love with her friend and fellow shuttler Parupalli Kashyap. Yes, she suffered a career-ending foot injury but came back stronger than ever to become World No 1. Yes, as the film suggests, Saina is indeed the “single most important thing to happen to this sport in the country,” And yes, Saina’s success spurned more such stories, and is definitely a tale of women empowerment. All of these and much more are shown in the 134-minute runtime. These are shown well too, with the required cinematic language that makes sports biopics tick. The rise, the fall, the comeback, the glory, the guts, the challenges, the pitfalls… Everything is almost there in Amole Gupte’s tribute to the girl from Haryana who dared to dream. But, well, it is just not enough.