SAINA is the story of the making of a legendary badminton player. Saina Nehwal (Parineeti Chopra) is a young girl who has just shifted from Hisar, Haryana to Hyderabad. Her mother Usha Rani (Meghna Malik) has been a district level badminton player in Haryana and she sees the same streak in Saina, who is her younger daughter. She decides to enroll her for badminton training. Despite the centre being almost 25 kms away, Usha makes it clear that she wants Saina to learn the sport. At the stadium, a coach says that the batch is full and hence, she can't be enrolled. But Saina shows off her skills and it surprises everyone. Hence, she is given a chance. Under the guidance from her coach and motivation from her mother, Saina's game improves. Usha convinces the coach to enlist her for district level and other such tournament despite the fact that she's too new. Saina, however, surprises and emerges victorious in these tournaments. Finally, one day, she gets a chance to play for the Indian national team. All is going well until one day, just before her first match overseas, Usha Rani meets with a road accident. She is hospitalized in a critical condition. Saina has no choice but to continue with her practice. At Prague, she manages to win the game and soon she learns that Usha Rani is out of danger. Later, her mentor asks her to get a better coach now that she is in another league. Saina hence joins Rajan Academy, run by a disciplinarian, Sarvadhamaan Rajan (Manav Kaul). Rajan was a celebrated tennis player at one point. He had lots of endorsement offers but he declined all of those as he felt it would corrupt his idea of the sport. He makes it clear that he expects the same from his students and that if they follow his style and coaching, they could become top players. Saina follows all the instructions of Rajan to the T. She even drastically changes her diet just on the insistence of Rajan. His methods bear fruit and Saina further goes up. However, soon there arises friction between her and Rajan. What happens next forms the rest of the film.Amole Gupte's story is inspirational. His screenplay is effective and he tries his best to make her biopic tantalizing for the viewers. Amole Gupte's dialogues (additional dialogues by Amitosh Nagpal) are simple and conversational. Some of the one-liners of Manav Kaul are sharp. Amole Gupte's direction is neat. He keeps the execution simple and focused on the life of Saina Nehwal. He has handled some scenes with panache and it shows his growth as a storyteller. Saina’s relationship with her mother and her association with coach Rajan especially are two tracks that stand out. On the flipside, though Saina’s journey is impressive, cinematically it lacks the thrill. SAINA starts off showing a recent victory of Saina Nehwal and it’s a very unconventional way to start a film. The flashback portions are engaging and the scene where Usha Rani suggests to Saina to pick up a racquet lying down and start playing to win the confidence of the coaches sets the mood of the film. Another scene that brings a smile is when Saina discusses her diet with Rajan. Two scenes are sure to shock viewers in the first half – first, where Usha Rani slaps Saina for coming second, and Usha Devi’s sudden accident. But overall, the first half is mostly about Saina’s victories. It’s post interval when the conflicts actually take centre stage. Saina’s fallout with the coach is well executed. The climax match stands out as it’s turned into a nail-biting one. The film ends on a lovely note. Speaking of performances, Parineeti Chopra is in a great form and she pulls off a difficult role with ease. She looks convincing as an expert badminton player but it is her scenes off the court where she really shines. Meghna Malik gets to play a very crucial character. Manav Kaul is natural. Eshan Naqvi (Kashyap) is lovely as Saina’s love interest. Subhrajyoti Barat (Saina’s father, Dr. Harvir Singh Nehwal) is dependable and is too good in the scene wherein he brags after getting innumerable shuttle-cocks for Saina. Ankur Vikal (Coach Jeevan Kumar) comes at a very emotional juncture in the film. He does good later but he hams in the entry scene. Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye (Little Saina) is decent and sails through with hardly any dialogues. The actress playing Saina’s sister gets no scope. Rohan Apte (Rohan) and Sharrman Dey (Damodar) are alright as Saina’s friends. As for songs, 'Parinda' stands out and uplifts the mood. 'Chal Wahin Chale' is soulful. 'Main Hoon Na Tere Saath' doesn’t register. Amaal Mallik's background score is well woven. Piyush Shah's cinematography is captivating, especially in the badminton scenes. Amit Ray and Subrata Chakraborty's production design gives the feel of a sports film. Red Chillies VFX's VFX is praiseworthy. Deepa Bhatia's editing is smooth and the pacing of the film is appropriate. On the whole, SAINA gives a great overview of one of the finest sports player of our country. The performance of Parineeti Chopra, the dramatic and emotional moments and the appropriate pace of the film contributes highly to the film’s appeal. Go for itRead full review
Champions are not born overnight. They are made. 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. She is just 31 and if you are a sports enthusiast, you are pretty much aware of her achievements, fallout with coach Pullela Gopichand and why she owes it all to her parents and modest middle-class upbringing. But there’s always more to the story than meets the eye. Even an individual sport has a coterie of well-wishers and experts who help rebuild faith when it threatens to slip away. After a near fatal injury, months of being holed up at home and seeing the world pass her by, it is Saina’s mother who tells her, “You are Saina Nehwal. Tu sherni hai. Do not let the world and media make you think otherwise. Self doubt is one’s biggest enemy. Shaq ko apney dil mein ghar na karne dena.” It is the mother, whose fierce ambition to see her daughter become the world no 1, that marks Saina’s beginning. As a resounding ode to a mother who knows how to hustle and is hopelessly optimistic, Saina, works. Most Indian biographical sports dramas stick to a template in their bid to play safe. What you get is a hagiography that rarely scratches the surface or goes beyond the obvious. Struggles, road to glory, downfall and resurrection — you know the drill. Since sportsmen are revered in the country, not many dare to address the skeletons in the closet. Amole Gupte also keeps his story simple. Saina’s alleged rivalry with PV Sindhu gets no mention. The filmmaker highlights the known ups and downs of Saina’s life, ensuring his storytelling isn’t patronising or over the top patriotic. The film is a dramatised account so we are not sure if this was real, but the mother doesn’t think twice before giving a tight slap to her under 12 daughter for seeing her happily flaunt her runner’s up medal. In the world of sports, there’s no place for people who come second. A young impressionable Saina is soon comforted by her father, who tells her why winning is everything for his wife. You expect the incident to shake up the young girl’s beliefs and thoughts on the arduous journey ahead, but she holds her head high, racquet higher and smashes her shortcomings. Gupte marginally delves into the psyche of his characters, and the conversations around parents wanting to fulfil their dreams through their children, quite doesn’t find an outlet. You don’t see him glorifying the struggle or idolising the victory. 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. She is like the ice-cream she likes — vanilla. 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. The director’s brilliance at working with children is this film’s highlight as well. Watching Mumbai’s talented 10-year-old shuttler Naishaa Kaur Bhatoye (as young Saina) displaying her skills on court is breathtaking. Not only does she resemble the real Saina, her mastery of the game gives the film an edge. She allows Gupte to capture the raw energy of an athlete and stoic ambition of Saina that he so craves to portray. You wish for him to do a Richard Linklater and let her age in real time, to see her continue playing Saina in the film as well. With no sporting background, for Parineeti Chopra to essay a badminton champion was a mighty challenge. 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. Her eyes occasionally conjure the sea of emotions one expects her to exude throughout. However, her ability to push herself for a character as physically demanding as this is admirable and not many would dare to take the bait. Amaal Mallik’s music is on point and captures the pulse of the movie perfectly. Shreya Ghoshal’s Chal wahi chalein in particular and Parinda will stay with you. Amole Gupte always had a tough task at hand as Saina’s life has been sober, relatively uncontroversial and transparent. The fact that she is an active sports person only adds to the expectations. Her road to world domination wasn’t outrageously wobbly. She has ultra supportive parents, loving sister, great set of friends and a husband (Parupalli Kashyap) that doubles up as her cheerleader. She was raised and loved like a winner right from her childhood. There isn’t a shattering conflict that tugs at your heart strings. Amol Gupte still tries to capture Saina’s tiger spirit that lies beneath her modest persona. His film is a feel good tale about India’s poster girl for Badminton. Saina, the film could have been more memorable, but it doesn’t fall short of inspiring the youth.Read full review
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