India's 'Modern Love' for badminton: Will the Thomas Cup win urge more space for the sport in cinema?
A welcome inclusion of badminton in Modern Love Mumbai makes one wonder if the Thomas Cup triumph by Srikanth & Co. will cause Indian cinema to start a love affair with this sport and give it cricket status soon.
Somewhere in the middle of the penultimate episode of Amazon Prime Video's Modern Love Mumbai, the average Olympic sports fan will inevitably feel the compulsion to hit the 'Rewind' button and 'Replay' a certain conversation between the episode's central characters - Saiba and Parth in Dhruv Sehgal's I Love Thane.
Any wild guesses why?
Inviting quite the surprise, Ritwik Bhowmik's Parth, playing an absolutely nondescript government employee, who isn't on any social media platforms and someone whose wallflower status is prized and not despised, is revealed as an ardent fan of Indian badminton and a former player himself when Masaba Gupta's Saiba asks, "And this Indian badminton blog?", during one of the many casual strolls they take.
What follows is an incredibly refreshing character portrayal where Parth goes on to gush about Indian badminton and director-writer Dhruv Sehgal cleverly incorporates the name Srikanth also in this conversation, immediately making many an Olympic fan in India sit up and take note, especially with the Thomas Cup fever still very much raging.
Having started his blog 'just like that' after being unable to continue with badminton himself, Parth mentions that he started it in 2007 - a year before Saina Nehwal was to make her first appearance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and after that, the blog "slowly became about badminton in India."
The timeline therefore hardly surprises anyone as since then India has been steadily doing well in badminton - thanks to PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal who caused the primary watershed moment with 3 Olympic medals, a World No. 1 honour, several World Championship medals and even the crown to share between them.
And then arrived the boys - Kidambi Srikanth and company, who Sehgal perhaps alludes to when Parth tells Saiba: "You know, there was this boy. Siddharth Srikanth, from Madurai. He played for India as well in the U-19 category. And he won, straight sets! And the boy he defeated, he is World No. 4 right now."
Soon, Parth wonders where this Srikanth is and how he is doing in his career and expresses his desire to chat with him and other promising players.
With way too many cricket films and cricket-chanting characters who strut around wearing the Indian jersey or the 'cooler' football fans gathering to watch a match in every other Indian commercial film, to see badminton make space for itself, even if it is for a few minutes, is perhaps a marker of change that has truly come about what with the Indian men's badminton team winning the Thomas Cup after a 73-year-long wait.
Cricket and football, have been used and dare we say, over-used by the commercial, and mainstream films, leaving little space for other sports and characters to follow other sports a thing of extreme rarity.
But a wind of change is definitely in the air, with headlines and front pages of newspapers splashed with the pictures of the Indian badminton team post their triumph at the Thomas Cup, where India crowned themselves as World Champion in a team event for the first time - making it nothing short of a cinematic and dramatic moment in itself.
Badminton and Bollywood
To say that badminton and Bollywood and other commercial cinema haven't used badminton would be a fib, especially with Saina, a biographical film on former World No. 1 Saina Nehwal having released in 2021.
Right from Jeetendra and Leena Chandravarkar romancing on the badminton court in the song Dhal Gaya Din, Ho Gayi Shaam to Deepika Padukone, daughter of former All England champion and badminton legend, Prakash Padukone, romancing with Shahrukh Khan in her debut film Om Shanti Om in a song while playing badminton or even a particular scene from Piku where the actress is once again seen playing the racquet sport - it will be wrong to say that badminton has never been shown and totally ignored on-screen.
But a conversation on badminton is a first, where the action is not just playing the sport but also discussing it, which is a welcome act by Dhruv Sehgal in Modern Love Mumbai's I Love Thane episode, which impresses with its effortless simplicity and relatable factors.
What this little inclusion of badminton however indicates is that perhaps after the Thomas Cup win, badminton's presence on the silver screen will also be more frequent and not come as a surprise. Even though it is too early to dream, no matter the comparisons of the Thomas Cup triumph to the 1983 Cricket World Cup victory by the masses - it is a good time to hope, because like Parth said, the future of Indian badminton is 'promising'.
And we cannot agree more and hope that this 'modern love' affair with Indian badminton only continues.
Modern Love Mumbai is streaming on Amazon Prime Video currently and is inspired by the personal essays from The New York Times column by the same name - Modern Love.