Ever since Amole Gupte’s directorial biopic, Saina, on ace badminton player, Saina Nehwal released, everyone — from the media to netizens — are talking about how well Parineeti Chopra has embodied Nehwal onscreen. Whether it is the body language, intensity on the court, clothes, the way she holds the racquet or the footwork — the resemblance is uncanny.
But beyond commending the actors’ performance, it takes a lot more to get the elements of a biopic right. The makers, including the actors, have to be careful not to mock or mimic the main character. And the unsung heroes behind the scenes, working hard to authenticate every move of the central character, also deserve a mention.
Thane-based Shrikant Vad, the first Badminton World Federation (BWF) certified coach from India, was incharge of training Chopra to get the right moves.
The recently released behind-the-scenes video of Vad training Chopra shows his dedication to the role. In another article, Gupte talks about making a film on Vad.
“Vad Sir has been hiding behind a screen of anonymity for the last 32 years… picking students from challenged backgrounds and raising them in his modest house. They include eight Shiv Chhatrapati Award Winners,” he told the Hindustan Times in 2019.
Vad is also a real-life hero who has changed innumerable lives by training underprivileged players for free.
“I became a professional badminton player at 32 after quitting my well-paid job at a pharmaceutical company. I entered the sport late only because I had no guidance or mentor. So, I decided to become the coach that I wish I had. Society and people around me have given me a lot, and in order to give something in return, I decided to teach talented children who couldn’t afford coaching fees,” Vad, who is the founder and president of Thane Badminton Academy tells The Better India.
Vad has religiously dedicated three decades of his life to nurture ace shuttlers and bring Thane district at par with the rest of India in terms of badminton rankings. He has taught thousands of students, of whom 500 come from low-income households. Sixteen of his students are national champions, 42 are international players (including Nehwal) and hundreds have played at the state level.
“Way before Nehwal etched her name in the world of badminton, she had attended one of my camps. I was thrilled to see a player so hungry and focussed. I have seen all her matches and there is no one like her. Eshan Naqvi, a shuttler-turned coach who essays the role of Nehwal’s husband in the movie, is also my student,” the 65-year-old shares.
‘Talent doesn’t see one’s economic status’
Born and raised in Thane, Vad’s life was on track till he entered his 30s. He completed his graduation and secured a well-paying job. His interest in badminton was limited to playing in college and his society complex.
“Back in the ’60s, there was no infrastructure or professional coaching to pursue badminton in Thane. I was good in college so I continued playing local matches after I started working. I loved the sport and always wondered how I could be closer to it. Then in 1988 I got my chance. The municipal corporation was building Dadoji Kondadev Stadium and I wanted to be part of it by coaching beginners. The authorities agreed on the condition that I become a certified coach first. So, I took leave from my job and went to Patiala for the course. I also went on to play district and state matches during that period,” recalls Vad.
At 32, he officially joined the association and quit his job with the sole purpose to create champions. His family, including his wife, wholeheartedly supported his decision to switch careers.
In 1992, the first batch of players trained under Vad was selected to play for India. Amrish Shinde, coach of the senior Indian team, was his first student to play in England and there was no looking back.
A few years into coaching, Vad realised talent and hard work transcends all irrespective of one’s economic status and that’s how his hunt for deserving students from underprivileged backgrounds began.
“There is a different kind of burning desire among kids who lack resources and opportunities to showcase their talent. They have so much to give and are so eager to learn. It pained me to see their dreams shatter even before they were given a platform. Taking them under my wing is the best decision I have made,” says Vad, who also provides shelter along with training to the ones who need it. Many of his students have stayed in his home for months. Akshay Dewalkar, a national champion, stayed at Vad’s house for 10 years.
Vad is also coaching disabled players. Two of his students, Girish Sharma and Arati Patil, are paralympic players with commendable world rankings.
Vad has received several laurels for his commendable work including the prestigious Dadaji Kondadev Award (Best Coach, 2003) and Samaj Shakti Puruskar (2011).
When asked what qualities make for a player great, Vad says, “It takes nothing less than a combination of talent, desire and sacrifice to become a world badminton champion.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao