ADVERTISEMENT
<div class="paragraphs"><p><em>BreakPoint</em> is a documentary on Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi's partnership.</p></div>
i

BreakPoint Review: An Emotional, Unique Ride With Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi

BreakPoint is a seven-episode documentary on one of Indian tennis' best partnerships.

Updated
Tennis
5 min read

BreakPoint Review: An Emotional, Unique Ride With Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi

It is hard not to be impressed with BreakPoint, a seven-episode documentary on Indian tennis’ greatest and, at once, most tragic story. Exploring the entire gamut of the famous partnership between Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, it deserves to walk away with honours for being the closest to unravelling the magic and the rapid disintegration of the pairing.

As a sports-writer – and as a leader of teams in the mid-90s when the Lee-Hesh partnership was forged and found the heights of success in 1999 by featuring in all four Grand Slam final, winning two – one was aware of many issues that led to fissures in their relationship not long after. Some would report on them, but it was always akin to walking on eggshells.

ADVERTISEMENT

The roles of the coaching and support staff (especially Enrico Piperno) in the players’ lives beyond tennis was always under scrutiny. With two gifted young athletes, their complementary skill sets and playing styles, the people they hung out with also assumed central roles at times. Money matters also would creep in to add to the tension in their relationships.

Besides, all those years ago, there were a few whispers of jealousy, large egos in conflict, murmurs of one or the other hiding injuries or slackening interest in training. Yet, with their candour on camera, Bhupathi and Paes showed they can still spring a surprise or two when reflecting on their shared journey, including when the wheels came off.

Too many Indian athletes’ autobiographies have tip-toed controversial issues with dexterity to be named here. Too many Indian sports biopics have drawn liberally on what is called literary licence to alter facts. Viewed against such a backdrop, BreakPoint is a great departure from such practices. Take a bow directors Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari.

The producers (Earthsky Pictures) have gone the distance in getting many people to share their views and have done a wonderful job of presenting all sides of the story, letting the viewer draw his or her own conclusions. The story tellers have walked the tightrope with a measure of comfort, taking care not to be seen as tilting the scales one way or the other.

Expectedly, even after time has passed, both Paes and Bhupathi have stuck to their guns. Their distinctive personalities, very different from one another, come through tellingly through the series (just as it did in tennis and life earlier). There are no prizes for guessing which of them has the more extroverted traits and which the introverted.

ADVERTISEMENT

One must credit Bhupathi and Paes for being candid and baring their hearts out on some milestone moments and events. It is always a challenge to revisit the unpleasant memories but, in some ways, BreakPoint may well be the trigger for them to let bygones be bygones. Once and for all. And perhaps soon visit one another’s homes in Bandra.

One thing that is clearly underlined by the series is that communication is key to any relationship. That hearsay – and it is hearsay even when it comes from people in one another’s camps – can cause massive destruction is a lesson that BreakPoint holds forth, even if the two of them are not speaking with the intention of offering lessons in interpersonal relationships.

A confession that being into one other’s lives, even away from the tennis court and training areas, was counter-productive also offers a suggestion that every relationship needs the right amount of stress; not enough can lead to a slackening and too much can possibly lead to avoidable breakage. That respect for one’s partner and team-mates comes from acceptance rather than a desire to change them.

There is sporting lesson in there as well but then it will be apparent only to those who populate the world of high-performance sport. Prodigal talent needs great management. With due respect to the amazing fathers, it is important for teams – even doubles players with their respective coaches – to be managed by one high-performance director.

The almost magical intervention by coach Bob Carmichael during a rain-break in the 1999 Wimbledon Championships when the sight of the winners’ trophies rekindled the fire in them is perhaps the closest they went to having one person in that role. Things had started going downhill and there were parallel camps among their supporters.

As Bhupathi confesses, none has an answer to how the 'Indian Express' – as the duo was called – performed so consistently despite the stresses. It is perhaps a barometer of their mental toughness and the strength of their instinct on court that they were able to produce such magic that saw them with three Grand Slam titles together.

If there is one aspect of the Lee-Hesh story that has been glossed over in BreakPoint, it is the mixed doubles saga around Sania Mirza that started in Doha 2006. It started with Bhupathi showcasing his credentials to be paired with her but the All-India Tennis Association voting in Paes’ favour. Later, Rohan Bopanna too had become a bone of contention.

Come to think of it, the Doha Asian Games was perhaps the lowest ebb in the relationship. It was a time when Paes, as captain of the Indian team, and Nandan Bal as the coach doubted Bhupathi’s fitness after the Indian Express lost the doubles runner in the opening round of the team competition.

ADVERTISEMENT

It must be said that the tennis clips from their matches, some fine editing (Omkar Uttam Sakpal) and wonderful background score (Rohan Vinayak) enhance the series and keep the viewer interest alive.

Interestingly, the pregnant silences were not edited out, letting the viewer experience the eloquence of the protagonists’ body language and draw their own inferences.

Did I enjoy binge watching BreakPoint? To be honest, while the superbly produced series is gripping and prevented a shut eye, it was not exactly enjoyable to sense that some of my own emotions, long bottled up, resurface in one’s own heart. When the pride one felt at the achievements of the pair is tempered by a wistful, sad tinge, the picture is not the rosiest.

And should you watch BreakPoint? Of course, you must, if only to see what worked and what did not in that relationship. There are not too many Indian athletes who are willing to share their vulnerabilities and misgivings as much as their respect and admiration for their team-mates with the world at large.

Paes and Bhupathi were pioneers in their playing days. They are pioneers now – in baring their hearts.

Rating: 4.5 Quints out of 5

G Rajaraman is a sports communication professional since 38 years and a life long student of sport.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

ADVERTISEMENT
Published: 
ADVERTISEMENT
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!
ADVERTISEMENT