As Saina readies for release six years after inception, director Amole Gupte discusses why Parineeti replaced Kapoor in the badminton champion’s role
Shraddha Kapoor had begun prepping for the biopic; (right) Parineeti Chopra in the film
Amole Gupte is relieved that Saina is primed for a big-screen release. With this, his six-year journey on the biopic of former world no 1 badminton champion Saina Nehwal reaches its culmination. He says, “I started researching in August 2015. The beauty of her story lies as much in her success as it does in the simplicity of her family and her. How does a lower-middle-class family maintain its values and navigate their daughter’s global success?” In December 2015, the director met Nehwal in Hyderabad. “She had knocked off [then] world number one Carolina Marin in a quarter-final in Dubai, and was home, nursing an injury. When I saw her come down the stairs, my heart was full,” recounts Gupte.
Given the family’s modest background, were they not daunted about their lives being dramatised in a Bollywood film? “Seeing my track record, they believed I would make the film with deep sensitivity. I am neither in the media glare, nor on Twitter. I am here to make movies, not to gather followers.”
Over the next five years, the movie battled more than its fair share of roadblocks, including a casting change. While the project was announced with Shraddha Kapoor earlier, it now stars Parineeti Chopra in the titular role. “[Making] this film felt like jumping off a plane, with the parachute refusing to open. Saina left the casting to me; she loved both Parineeti and Shraddha. I don’t audition a lot, believing that everyone is capable of being a good actor, with a little help. Parineeti has hit the nail on the head. Saina has been playing since she was eight. Parineeti can’t replicate [her mastery], but had the wisdom to replicate the efficiency.”
But what prompted the switch? After all, Kapoor had trained in the sport for the better part of 2018. “She got dengue, and by the time she recovered, she had to shoot Chhichhore . The makers had taken [her dates] two years in advance, so she couldn’t have backed out. After that, when there was a crisis on Street Dancer 3D, they got Shraddha on board. So, Parineeti was brought in for my film in April 2019. It was a smooth transition.”