Thank God for true heroes. And for a film about a true hero like Saina Nehwal rather than some scumbag gangster whose life-story should be thrown into the nearest gutter. Saina is a picture-perfect biopic. Inspiring and engaging, it makes all the right noises (and that includes some wonderfully worded motivational songs in the background) and shuffles its confident feet in the comforting domain.
We may not get to see anything unexpected in this biopic. The bandwidth of storytelling for all sports biopics is nearly identical: struggle preferably with a pushy parent goading the prodigy to glory and greatness, the stardom, the fall, the final triumph. Saina goes through the motions with sure-handed efficacy.
The sequences on the badminton court are well shot. Cinematographer Piyush Shah lenses the insecure middleclass girl and her skyhigh dreams in the opposite of rose-tinted glasses. No one looks like an amateur trying to be professional, least of all Parineeti Chopra who plays Saina with a kickass swagger. She imbibes the real Saina’s courtly mannerism seamlessly. The performance is not showoffy. It doesn’t invite attention. Rather, the world of Saina’s growth is constructed tenderly brick by brick.
We first meet young Saina (the quietly effective Naisha Kaur Bhatoye) being pushed almost to the edge by her mother Usha Rani (Meghna Malik), herself a state-level badminton player now thrusting her incomplete dreams on her younger daughter. The elder one, played with a graceful anonymity by Dimple Kalshan remains in the shadows…Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to know how she feels about her sibling being the complete focus of familial attention?
Some of Usha Rani’s bullying tactics verge on child abuse. It is to Meghna Malik’s credit that she makes the mother’s part more motivational. Her raging passion to see her child excel is a revelation.
Director Amole Gupte weaves in and out of Saina’s family life with tender care.The dialogues are immensely helpful in giving the characters and the plot points an anchoring impetus. Saina’s gentle father (Subhrajyoti Bharat) is described as “Do Bigha Zameen ke Balraj Sahni.”
And an affable coach describes the way Badminton is perceived in our movies by referring to the song Dhal gaya din from Humjoli where Jeetendra and Leena Chandravarkar reduced the shuttle-cock to a beat maker. Cinema literate and articulate, Saina will make you laugh out load and move you to tears.
In one sequence after Saina is ordered by her coach to have a dozen egg whites for breakfast, Saina's mother wonders what they will do with all the yoke. This is followed by a shot of the ever-docile father with a plate filled with egg yokes in front of him.
Speaking of the coach, his name has been changed from Pullela Gopichand to Rajan. And understandably so. As played by Manav Kaul, he comes across as some kind of an egotist, forbidding Saina from seeing her incredibly devoted boyfriend Kashyap (real-life badminton player Eshan Naqvi, playing certifiable son-in-law material). One of the film’s finest verbal duel is in Rajan’s chamber where Saina refuses to be bullied into submission. At one point when Rajan tells her that a relationship is a distraction, Saina wonders why Sachin Tendulkar marrying at 23 was okay, a female sportsperson with a love interest is not.
Saina spreads it wings far and wide creating a commodious yet compact world of sports and sexism, parental bullying and filial allegiance, sport etiquette and sporting tolerance, big dream and bigger achievements…The theme song Main parinda kyon banoon mujhe aasman ban-na hai/Main panna kyun banoon mujhe dastaan ban-na hai says it all.
Quietly effective in the dramatic moments and unabashedly celebratory in tone, this is how a biopic should be.
Image source: Instagram/parineetichopra/Youtube/Tseries