Movie Review: Saina

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.

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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, <em>’Parinda'</em> stands out and uplifts the mood. <em>’Chal Wahin Chale'</em> is soulful. <em>’Main Hoon Na Tere Saath'</em> 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 it

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