There is one golden rule for any film, and not just a sports based film – There needs to be some sort of euphoria; the kind of excitement that results in high adrenalin. A roller coaster is of course a bonus but as long as the ride is thrilling, it keeps you engaged as an audience.
That’s what’s missing in Saina – an adrenalin rush. Right from start to the finish, it basically stays on to be rather plain. Perhaps the idea was to keep it all lifelike and realistic. However in an attempt to do that, director Amol Gupte keeps the narrative of Saina so plain that it occasionally comes close to being dull.
Thankfully that’s not the case for the entire film. It does have its moments where you do get attached to the characters. That’s not the case for first 30-40 minutes though which are plain ordinary. After starting off with a Commonwealth win by Saina Nehwal (no excitement in the opening sequence, when this should have been a rocking kickstart), the film goes into the flashback mode with Parineeti Chopra detailing out the childhood of the ace badminton champion.
This is where you start getting some shocks as the whole acting as well as scene setting goes for a toss. The little girl playing Saina practically gets one dialogue to mouth (‘Kya maa jeeti thi?’ or something or that sort) and while she may be a good badminton player in real life, she is definitely not an actor. What gets on your nerves though is the way the mother in the film, Meghna Malik, shrieks and screams while totally overdoing the Haryanvi Jatni act. For someone who is rather impressive in Pagglait that has also released this week, she is totally out of sorts and in an overacting mode here. Even Subhrajyoti Barat, who came up with a cracker of an act in Mirzapur and then registered his presence in this year’s release Madam Chief Minister, forcibly underplays his act, though good marks for his casting from the face value perspective since he has an uncanny resemblance to real life father of Saina.
Even as you pass through these hurdles and things somehow become engaging once Parineeti comes on the scene as the grown up Saina, it seems like an eternity till the interval point comes, something which gives an impression as if you have watched the entire film already.
Things do get interesting though after the interval point when the conflict emerges between Saina and her coach (Manav Kaul) which reminds one of the headlines that came in vogue back in time when Saina and her coach Gopichand had a public fallout. It all looks very unreasonable though as rather than being a motivator, Manav Kaul comes across as someone who only leads to low morale amongst his players. Even that may be fair if it was all that actually happened since people can have their own characteristic traits. However when in the end it’s told that the duo eventually reunited (with no explanations given about why and how did it happen), you wonder what the fuss was all about.
In the midst of it all you do keep chugging along in this journey as Parineeti Chopra does hold your attention with some of her scenes. Though there isn’t as much meat in her performance as was the case with The Girl On The Train or Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar where she was consistent right though, that’s not the case with Saina as her body language and dialogue delivery keep getting fluctuated in and out of character. That said, she has a pleasant persona and that works for a viewer.
What doesn’t work at all is the complete sidelining of Saina’s win in the Olympics. Any sports lover would admit that this tournament is the Mecca for all top players and here it comes across as a passing mention and that too when even district level matches are shown with so much detail in the film. As for the climax, there is such lack of build up that you realise that the film is coming to a close only when just around 5 minutes are left. A good contributor for that is the song ‘Parinda’ because at any point in the narrative when Saina makes a comeback in a match, the song begins to play a couple of seconds earlier, hence totally eliminating the edge-of-the-seat factor and only preparing you that now it would be time for a win.
It’s this sort of predictability that is the core thematic style of Saina as a whole as well which robs the film of turning out to be something that it could have been but doesn’t quite reach there.