Review: 'Saina' serves up a decent slice of sporting action

The Bollywood biopic charts the story of Saina Nehwal, the first Indian badminton player to rank number one in the world

A still from Saina. Courtesy AA Films
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Saina, the biopic of Indian sportswoman Saina Nehwal, is a simplistic treat – if you are content with eating vanilla ice cream, that is.

Writer-director Amole Gupte tries to chart the story of India's first badminton player to rank number one in the world, and the sacrifices she had to make to achieve such sporting success.

One of her smaller sacrifices was to completely change her diet, and give up ice cream. When she does cheat, vanilla is all she is allowed to indulge in. And to be clear, vanilla can taste as good as any other flavour, in certain situations.

WUHAN, CHINA - APRIL 26:  Saina Nehwal of India hits a return during the women's singles match against Akane yamaguchi of Japan at the 2019 Badminton Asia Championships on Apirl 26, 2019 in Wuhan, central China's Hubei province.  (Photo by Wang HE/Getty Images)

The film's star, Parineeti Chopra, had big shoes to fill, considering she replaced Shraddha Kapoor as the titular Saina Nehwal after the film's production was already well underway. But despite her best efforts, she doesn't quite fit the mould.

She does, however, score points in the more emotional scenes and one gets the sense that her bonding behind the scenes with the real Saina Nehwal helped Chopra get the athlete's mannerisms right.

The essence of the film, the action on the court, is deftly handled in Piyush Shah's cinematography. An uplifting theme song, Parinda, with music from Amaal Malik and penned by Manoj Muntashir, is another strong point.

These elements are enough to inspire anyone to pick up a racket – or at least marvel at the path forged by a girl from the north Indian state of Haryana.

In 2002, I interviewed Nehwal and her mother Usha Rani, and the sacrifices made by her parents (her father Harvir Singh had a government job with the agriculture department) were clear. The quiet background support of fellow India international badminton player and husband Parupalli Kashyap is captured well by actor Eshan Naqvi in the film, but it is Meghna Malik in her role as Usha Rani who really stands out.

It is also no secret that, off the court, Nehwal had a turbulent relationship with her coach Pullela Gopichand, who is characterised as S Rajan in the film and portrayed by the reliable Manav Kaul. The details are conveniently glossed over.

As is the contribution of Vimal Kumar, who was by Nehwal's side when she reached world number one status, after parting ways with Gopichand for a three-year period. There is just a veiled confession from Nehwal, where she admits, after a confrontation scene with Rajan, that she went to patch things up but ended up making them worse.

There is also no reference to her failings at the 2012 Olympics, when she lost her composure and had to settle for a bronze medal. It was still an achievement for an Indian shuttler, but a blight on Saina's career.

But perhaps that is the case with most biopics – they ignore the less convenient elements of any subject's life. So while it may be plain vanilla for some, the film may well be a luxury treat for others.

Saina is in UAE cinemas now