‘Saina’ is what a biopic should be

Quietly effective in the dramatic moments and unabashedly celebratory in tone, this is how a bio-pic should be

‘Saina’ is what a biopic should be
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Subhash K Jha

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 sky-high 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  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  bio-pic should be.

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