<div class="paragraphs"><p>Parineeti Chopra in and as Saina.</p></div>

Review: Despite Its Moments, ‘Saina’ Fails to Think Out of the Box

Parineeti Chopra plays Saina Nehwal in the biopic.

Movie Reviews
4 min read


Review: Despite Its Moments, ‘Saina’ Fails to Think Out of the Box

Hair pulled back with colourful clips, a prominent mole on her left cheek and a determined demeanour - Parineeti Chopra, who plays Saina Nehwal in the latter's biopic titled Saina, does a good job of getting into her part. The rustic Haryanvi charm hangs a little uneasily initially, but Parineeti slowly makes the character her own.

Sport biopics are a little tricky. As is generally the case with films based on well-known personalities, we already know the trajectory the story will take - as the underdog vs Goliath trope plays out. So, apart from the narrative quest to hold the urgency and tension, we also need the actual sports shots to be authentic and genuine. In that sense Saina does a great job of getting the cinematic language right. Piyush Shah’s camera eloquently captures the swift movements of players as packed indoor stadiums come alive and Deepa Bhatia’s sharp editing gives the flying shuttle a menacing play.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Parineeti Chopra in Saina.</p></div>

Parineeti Chopra in Saina.

While we might not be as acquainted with the sport or follow it religiously, Saina Nehwal is a household name. She is the only Indian badminton player (male or female) to win 24 individual titles and a reigning national champion who in 2015 attained the world No 1 ranking, becoming the only female player from India and overall the second Indian player after Prakash Padukone to achieve this feat. She has represented India three times in the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in her second stint.

These achievements also fly on screen as caveats at the end of the film. As do pics of the real and reel Saina posing together. The resemblance is admirable and the tribute heartwarming, but when we go in to watch a biopic of a supremely admired star you also want to see an aspect of her life that we aren't privy to, or slowly be allowed to peel the layers and get as close as we can to the person behind the grand cutout.

For a film that starts with Saina’s voiceover telling us that she chose to hold the ‘talvaar’ (referring to her badminton racquet) instead of being in the kitchen, her own voice slowly disappears.

We don’t mind the very professionally shot match and training montages, but when we meet our champion off court we realise we still know very little of the real Saina. It’s also disconcerting that at crucial places where the film could have beautifully delved into an unexplored perspective it is too scared to go there and sometimes even seems disinterested.

Champions are not overnight sensations, those glittering smiles shining brighter than the medals they proudly hold are a result of years of toil, unimaginable hardships and sacrifices not just on the part of the players but also the families. In Saina’s case her mother, a former state-level badminton player, is the driving force. Meghna Malik vociferously playing the mother with a strong Haryanvi accent is a dominating presence . Then there is the quietly supportive , always-smiling father endearingly played by Shubrojyoti Barat. At one point her mother’s expectations and support become threateningly stifling and the film registers this but cuts the strain abruptly. We are never allowed to explore this fascinating relationship, where helping someone push their limits can also push them to a frightening brink.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Manav Kaul and Parineeti in still from Saina.</p></div>

Manav Kaul and Parineeti in still from Saina.

Then comes coach Rajan, who clearly is modelled on Pullela Gopichand but for some reason is never named. His no-nonsense attitude, strict regime and astute guidance help Saina shine bright internationally. At another significant juncture when Saina is reprimanded and asked to take her mind off any possible romantic affairs she talks about how, because she is a female player, her personal life is always questioned but a Sachin Tendulkar is never questioned about his commitment to the sport when he married at the age of 22. Here again, the film just retracts and steps back instead of exploring it further.

After a string of defeats our champion does taste victory. The build-up is on point. The film is most alive when Manav Kaul, the idealist coach, confronts his headstrong passionate protege. But the pleasures dwindle soon enough as we are treated to a meek end. Make no mistake, Saina has its moments and we do cheer for Saina ‘s off screen exploits while applauding Parineeti’s on-screen manoeuvres, but the film could have been so much more if writer-director Amole Gupte had shed the Bollywood hangover and chosen a different lens to view this story. To borrow a fabulous line from the film, “Darr is baat ka nahi ki hum bade sapne dekhte hai, darr iss baat ka hai ki hum chote sapne dekhte hain aur woh poore honjate hain".

Saina nurtured an extraordinary dream which she set out to achieve with enviable panache. I wish the film had chosen to tell her story with more eloquence instead of treading the beaten path.

Our rating: 2.5 Quints out of 5

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