Game On The Big Screen: Sportswomen-Oriented Bollywood Biopics To Watch

Jul 11, 2022, 15:18 IST

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From the Commonwealth Games to the Olympics, Indian sportswomen are making their mark, and how! For our women to bag medals, it’s not just a journey of grit and determination; for many, it’s also about breaking the glass ceiling, standing up for their dreams, fighting the patriarchy, and much more. Which is why, with just over a month to go for National Sports Day (August 29), here’s a round-up of sportswomen-oriented Bollywood biopics that have tugged at our heartstrings.

Mary Kom

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Priyanka Chopra plays MC Mary Kom

Directed by Omung Kumar and with Priyanka Chopra in the lead, this 2014 biopic was a major box-office hit. It highlighted veteran boxer MC Mary Kom’s journey of overcoming hurdles and reaching the top, and winning the 2008 World Boxing Championship after returning to the sport post becoming a mother. Christened ‘Magnificent Mary’ and the ‘Queen of Boxing’, Mary has undoubtedly given her all for India. So did Priyanka to the role, leaving no stone unturned to fit into the gloves of the six-time world boxing champion. The former Miss World and two-time National Award winner did justice to the role by convincingly portraying Mary, right from the stance to the footwork. To get herself into shape, Priyanka underwent extensive physical training, including endurance, strength, flexibility and functional training. She also learned Mary’s boxing style and technique, and aced workout scenes that were shot in freezing temperatures in Manali and Dharamshala. The pair spent time with each other to help Priyanka get under the skin of the boxer. Reportedly, Priyanka, who lost her father before shooting began, channelled her grief and pain into her work. While Priyanka received popular and critical acclaim for her role, Mary revealed in an interview that she had hoped the movie would highlight the nuances of her career, focus more on the fights, and show the many skills and strategies she had had to learn. She also said she understood that the director had to take cinematic liberties to impress the audience.

Saand Ki Aankh

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Bhumi Pednekar plays Chandro Tomar & Taapsee Pannu plays Prakashi Tomar
Directed by Tushar Hiranandani and produced by Anurag Kashyap, Saand Ki Aankh is a dramatised biography of the oldest women sharpshooters in the world. Chandro Tomar and her sister-in-law Prakashi Tomar defied patriarchy by sharing a common dream – that of shattering society’s perception of gender roles – not just for themselves, but also for the other women in their family. Fighting every obstacle, these phenomenal women went on to win 352 medals each in their professional lives – in their seventies!
In the movie, Vineet Kumar Singh plays an educated youth who returns home to his village to work for the upliftment of his people. He starts a shooting range to discourage the local youngsters from gunning down people and ending up in jail, encouraging them instead to channel their shooting skills in a productive way. Chandro learns that shooting can cement her granddaughter Shefali’s future by securing her a government job. As she tries to get her to join the academy, Chandro ends up enrolling herself. When Prakashi sees the two learn shooting, she takes her daughter along, too, to join the academy. And that’s how the four ladies start their training in shooting. Since they don’t have the courage to tell their husbands the truth, they do so under the ruse of going to the temple or attending satsangs.
Actors Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar deserve to be applauded just as much as the Tomar women! Not only did they take on the challenge of portraying sharpshooters, but in an industry where women’s screen success is often capped based on their age, they boldly took on the roles of elderly women. That they did a fabulous job makes this an inspiring and emotional roller-coaster ride of a movie.

Dangal

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Fatima Sana Shaikh plays Geeta Phogat & Sanya Malhotra plays  Babita Kumari

While the Tomar clan headman Rattan Singh Tomar, played by Prakash Jha in Saand Ki Aankh, says, “Mhaare ghar ki chhoriyaan aage na jaave hai, dusro ke ghar jaave hai (the girls in our family don’t succeed in life, they are married off),” Aamir Khan’s “Mhaare chhoriyaan chhoro se kam hai ke? (My daughters are no less than sons)” became an oft-quoted dialogue from Dangal. This 2016 movie ended up being the highest grossing Indian film that year, with rave reviews for its subject matter and performances.

Hailing from Haryana’s Balali village in Bhiwani district, the six Phogat sisters are all wrestlers. Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita are daughters of former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat; Priyanka and Vinesh are his nieces. Mahavir trained all of them in wrestling, preparing them to bring home laurels and adulation in the sport. And they have done him proud – Geeta, Babita and Vinesh have won gold medals in different weight categories at the Commonwealth Games, Priyanka has won a silver at the Asian Championships, Ritu gold at the National Championships, and Sangita has won at age-level international championships.
Dangal
follows the story of this family, the challenges faced by Mahavir (played by Aamir), Geeta and Babita, and Geeta’s journey to becoming the first Indian female wrestler to win gold at the Commonwealth Games. Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra played the Phogat sisters to a T, but special credit also goes to Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar for their portrayal of the young Geeta-Babita.

Saina

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Parineeti Chopra plays Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal has taken India to new heights in badminton; she is credited with raising the popularity of the sport in the country. This former world no. 1 has many records to her name, and is the only player to have won at least one medal in every Badminton World Federation (BWF) major individual event, namely the BWF World Junior Championships, the BWF World Championships and the Olympics. Saina is the first badminton player from the country to have won an Olympic medal, to reach the BWF World Championships final, win a Super Series title, and two singles gold medals in the 2010 and 2018 Commonwealth Games. Needless to say, a biopic on this unstoppable achiever was long overdue.

Starring Parineeti Chopra as Saina, the film was set to hit the screens in September 2020, but was finally released in March 2021, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It traces the ace shuttler’s life starting from her training at Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in Hyderabad, the sacrifices her parents made, her own struggles, and her passion for the sport. It also shows her relationship with fellow badminton player and former world no. 6 Parupalli Kashyap, played by Eshan Naqvi, who went on to become her husband, and Coach Sarvadhamaan Rajan, a fictionalised version of Saina’s real-life coach Pullela Gopichand, played by Manav Kaul. The filmmakers recreated about 12 courts to represent international venues at which Saina had played.

While the movie received mixed to positive reviews and the pandemic impacted its theatrical run, Parineeti’s performance was largely praised. To prepare for the role, she rigorously trained in badminton and practised Saina’s stances. She aced the serves, drops and smashes, got the sportsperson’s body language right, and also downplayed her own naturally bubbly personality. Asked about the greatest takeaway from Saina’s life in an interview, Parineeti said it was about finding the power within to not give up when you’re at your lowest. She added that if she were an athlete and lost a match, she didn’t know if she would be able to go back out there and play, but Saina does that marvellously. Coupled with the way 2020 panned out for everyone, Parineeti said all of this made her realise the importance of family, and that they’d always be by your side no matter what.

FYI: Shraddha Kapoor was originally signed to play Saina’s role, but opted out later. 

Shabaash Mithu

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Taapsee Pannu plays Mithali Raj

Set to release on July 15, 2022, Shabaash Mithu is a biographical sports drama based on the life of Mithali Raj, played by Taapsee Pannu. Mithali, who served as ODI captain for the Indian women’s cricket team for the most part of her over-two-decade-long career, is the first woman cricketer from the county to have received the Bharat Khel Ratna award. She has also made history by being the only Indian cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar, and third overall, to have played in six World Cups!
While we wait with bated breath to watch this chronicle of Mithali’s life and its ups and downs, and revel in the moments of glory, we’re also excited to see Taapsee portray the skipper’s aura. In an interview with Healthntrends, the talented actor said she was approached for the role even before the script was ready. She agreed to dedicate the time and effort to learning the sport and playing the character with conviction because she believes Mithali’s
is a story that needs to be told.

Chakda Xpress

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Anushka Sharma plays Jhulan Goswami

If the BCCI were to institute a ‘Hall of Fame’ for women’s cricket, Jhulan Goswami would certainly feature,” says the ICC website of this former captain of the Indian national women’s cricket team. An all-rounder who is regarded as one of the greatest bowlers in the history of women’s cricket, Jhulan has several laurels to her name. In 2011, she won the ICC Women’s Player of the Year award; in 2016, she ranked first in the ICC Women’s ODI bowling rankings; in 2018, she became the first bowler to take 200 wickets in women’s ODIs; and, in the 2022 Women’s Cricket World Cup, she made history by becoming the first bowler to take 250 wickets in women’s ODIs.

In a male-dominated sport, Jhulan has not only made her mark, but did so by fighting countless challenges. The cricketer, who hails from Chakdaha town in West Bengal, used to take a five-hour train journey every day from there to Kolkata to train for professional cricket. Jhulan’s biopic, Chakda Xpress, is slated for a February 2023 release. As Anushka Sharma gets into the athlete’s shoes for this movie, she promises to strive to bring her all
to the table. We can’t wait to watch this one!
Also read: Gita Gopinath Is The First Woman On IMF’s ‘Wall Of Former Chief Economists’