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Saina Movie Review: A satisfying sports biopic

Modified On: 01 April 2021 | Reviewed By:

Amol Gupte's film is high in emotion. The film uses all the template of a sports biopic but the film works due to its portrayal of an underdog and Parineeti Chopra's honest efforts.


Director: Amol Gupte | Music Director: Amaal Mallik

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Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Manav Kaul, Meghna Malik

Directed By: Amole Gupte

Saina is a sports biopic on  ace badminton player Saina Nehwal. All the sports biopic follow the usual template- Struggles, road to glory, downfall and resurrection. Saina also doesn't have anything new to offer but still, it works due to the emotion quotient added in the movie.

Saina Nehwal, daughter of Usha and Harvir Singh Nehwal, a Haryanvi couple from Hyderabad created history in 2015 when she became the first Indian woman and only the second Indian after Prakash Padukone to attain the world No.1 ranking in Badminton. If you are a sports enthusiast you might know the story of Saina, her fall out with coach Pullela Gopichand you even might know Sina's infamous rivalry with fellow badminton player P V Sindhu (which is not shown in the film).

Saina is a dramatised representation of real life. So obviously makers have taken creative liberty but you don’t see Amol Gupte glorifying the struggle or idolising the character. He captures his protagonist as she merely goes on doing her job. There’s a certain nonchalance in his execution that mirrors Saina’s approach to herself. More or less uncomplicated, straightforward and sincere. To make a seemingly non-controversial life interesting is a challenge, as you don’t have enough props at your disposal to grab attention, but he manages well. In nearly all sports dramas, a man or a woman’s dream has always been gazed at with disdain by his/her parents. In this regard, Saina dares to stand out and not follow the crowd.

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Though some troupes of a biopic especially when a woman is a protagonist is showcased in this film too. The idea of a woman’s aspirations being caged by male chauvinism doesn’t sound novel anymore. The intent of creating a woman character refusing to let her kitchen be her home ground doesn’t feel progressive anymore. Is all middle-class woman have the same struggle, fighting with the patriarchy?

Saina however is far off from being a flawless film. Despite a tight runtime, there’s a sequence in the second half, around the downfall of Saina, that seems stretched. Things however pick up in the finale with an exciting match between India and Spain. The intent of certain actions that Manav Kaul’s character the coach Pullela Gopichand takes in the second half isn’t well established, and one is confused about taking his behaviour towards the protagonist later in the film.

Manav Kaul plays Pullela Gopichand, Nehwal’s coach. Kaul is one of the most exciting actors around. Amole Gupte and writer Amitosh Nagpal never heighten his character arc to create a room for sympathy for our protagonist, a blunder that was evident in another sports drama, Dangal. What is apparent are the lines. The indefatigable and indefinite passion for the sport in Nehwal is established by her will to break The Great Wall of China. The way she says this, the intent could be physical more than metaphorical. Her aim to represent the country is met with an endearing response at home.

Amol Gupte aces when he directs child actors, this film is also not an exception. Watching Mumbai’s talented 10-year-old shuttler Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye (as young Saina) displaying her skills on the court is breathtaking. Not only does she resemble the real Saina, but her mastery of the game also gives the film an edge. She allows Gupte to capture the raw energy of an athlete and the stoic ambition of Saina that he so craves to portray. 

Parineeti Chopra to essay a badminton champion was a mighty challenge. When the trailer was released people criticised her appearance in the film with the mole on her cheek to be an annoyance. While most certainly one doesn’t expect her to get the game and technique right in such a short span of time, you do expect her to get the emotion, body language and mannerisms right as an actor. Parineeti’s best isn’t enough as she gives an impression of not being in the moment in some crucial scenes. Through her honest effort portraying the real-life character reflects in the performance. 

Finally, Saina is not a perfect biopic film but it has its moment, the film works because the emotional quotient is high.

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