They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s perfectly valid advice when you’re watching Saina, the biopic of badminton player Saina Nehwal, starring Parineeti Chopra in the lead role. While the unconvincing trailer didn’t really set high expectations, the film turns out to be quite a gritty and motivational story about dedication, optimism and the drive to be number one. Directed by Amol Gupte, the story of Saina connects with you instantly, but just like the game, it’s inconsistently paced.
The film begins with Saina (Chopra) addressing a group of journalists cheering for her after her victory at the Commonwealth Games — a scene in a media room is quite exaggerated. They ask the routine questions – “How does it feel? How do you handle failures?” Saina, in a flashback that continues till the very end of the film, narrates her journey from giving up on ‘dolls and birthday parties’ to picking up a badminton racquet as a child and fighting to become the best player in the world.
Watch the Saina trailer here
I had my reservations about Parineeti Chopra portraying Saina on screen, but she has put up a great show, especially with her physicality. Her scenes on the badminton court are more engaging than the ones off it. However, her inconsistent accent and that distracting mole on her face (which kept changing its size for reasons unexplained) were unsettling. Also, the child actor who plays young Saina — Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye — does a terrific job. Not only does she bear an uncanny resemblance to the real Saina, she also nails her mannerisms.
Amol Gupte’s expertise at making films with child protagonists is well known. But in Saina, which he has also written, his direction seems too simplistic at times. He tries to touch upon various facets of Saina’s life off the badminton court but never comes out victorious in narrating them with full conviction.
The portion in which Saina’s mother Usha Rani (fiercely played by Meghna Malik) is standing by her side – motivating her, pushing her and when she fails, even slapping her – are beautifully shot and establish an emotional connect. However, after Saina starts training with her coach, Rajan — a character based on Pullela Gopichand — her mother’s involvement takes a backseat and she is reduced to cheering for her daughter from the stands.
What I do not like about some biopics is when even after watching them, you don’t learn anything new about the subject, and that is exactly the case with Saina. We know that she has been the world number 1 in badminton, we know of the tournaments she has won, we know the many highs and a few lows that she has seen in her life, but that’s all that the film touches upon.
Her fallout with her coach, her romantic track with Parupalli Kashyap (played by a real-life badminton player making his acting debut – Eshan Naqvi), her father’s contribution in her journey, her equation with her only sister — these are some of the things that could have added soul to the story. All we get is a recap of Saina’s achievements. On the few occasions that the film addresses unknown aspects of her life, it leaves the threads hanging without tying them up.
Unlike the sports biopics made on the Phogat sisters (Dangal), Mary Kom and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, what Saina lacks is the ‘wow’ factor. It’s a simple story told in a simpler way. Her journey may have been uncontroversial, but even the parts that could have been fleshed out were ignored.
Also read: Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar movie review: Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor reunite in Dibakar Banerjee’s two-hour snooze-fest
Having said that, Piyush Shah’s cinematography and Deepa Bhatia’s crisp editing, especially of the badminton scenes, are worthy of praise. The music tracks, no matter how misplaced they sound, are written and sung beautifully.
Watch Saina to get a shot of inspiration, but do not expect it to scratch beneath the surface.