Amole Gupte on ‘Saina’: Biopics are not Madame Tussauds

A still from ‘Saina’

A still from ‘Saina’

Amole Gupte’s best friend, Sudhanshu Hukku, from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai, was placed No.1 in the Junior Nationals Badminton Championship in 1979. Later, when Hukku joined as a coach at IIT-Bombay, Amole was a witness to the “superhuman” strength national champions possessed. Through Hukku, he built a strong relationship with various badminton clubs in Mumbai, which would later become building blocks for Saina , based on Olympic bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal’s life.

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In Saina , which releases this Friday in theatres, badminton is not reduced to the periphery, a narrative device, but is at the forefront, says Amole. He has been following Nehwal’s career since 2010 and the film, he says, was an exercise in inspiring people. “I want families, both in India and abroad, to get motivated and look at life differently,” says Amole, over a patch call from a hospital in Mumbai (courtesy: Coronavirus). “Can you believe it... I have lost seven kilograms in 20 days,” he says, with a laugh. Excerpts from an edited interview:

Going by your filmography, you seem to be interested in telling stories of the underdog...

Maybe not that of an underdog, but to tell stories that triumph over despair — which happens to a large population of our country on a daily basis. That, in my opinion, is an important aspect to be tapped in terms of emotion.

At what point were you convinced of making a film on Saina’s life?

When she became World No.1 in 2015, I thought, “Okay, enough. I have to tell her story.” We are a cricket-loving nation, right? But I wanted to present an alternate view to badminton. The base of my film is the spirit of Saina Nehwal and her life. In that sense, it is not an authentic biopic, for, it tells you where to focus, to get inspired and motivated.

When you write a sports biopic for a mainstream audience, how do you translate the dramatic highs and lows, given that it is based on a real person?

I am not overly dramatic, although you could blame me for being emotional and therefore, I pass on the emotional quotient onto the viewer. In my opinion, emotion should not be extended to the point of squeezing tears. It should have a tone and timbre and should not be marketed.

Yes, the film is based on a real person. But they do have emotions, right? That is why I was cautious not to extract tears from the emotional journey: of a girl from a lower middle-class Indian family doing wonders.

What was more difficult: to get into Saina’s head or the execution part?

If you figure out a tone and pattern, then it is no longer work. In my set, we don’t work but have fun. I try to explore the film with my actors, which is a very rewarding process. Even for my children’s films, I have never given a piece of paper for them to memorise lines. Which is why the large part of Saina is about the journey of the little Saina, which is my comfort zone.

Amole Gupte

Amole Gupte

Do you work with your actors closely and act out to them?

I started out as a theatre actor in college. When I write and later narrate to an actor, I make sure it does not sound academic. When the process becomes free-flowing, you can arrive at answers and you find a middle-path between what you are expressing and what the actor brings. With children, I make sure they don’t parrot me...I let them be and grab the moment.

But how do you evaluate an actor’s performance in a biopic, like in the case of Parineeti Chopra? Do you look for what is true to that scene or is it also about getting the mannerisms right?

Even real-life figures are played by actors, right? Sometimes in the process of trying to be accurate, you loose out on certain things. Take Ben Kingsley, for instance. The one we see in Gandhi is not the actual Mahatma. The way the actor interpreted the character was what made it special.

Biopics are not Madame Tussauds [wax museum]. Sometimes actors also bring in their own interpretations. What matters is how truthful you can be to the heart of the film.

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Printable version | Oct 6, 2022 8:33:46 pm |