"Shaabash Mithu can spark a change for women's cricket" - Taapsee's coach for Mithali Raj biopic
Having prepped a hard-working Taapsee Pannu to fit the bill of former teammate Mithali Raj for her biopic, Indian Railways coach Nooshin Al Khadeer expects the film to give women's sports in India a major boost.
It's no secret that Bollywood loves Taapsee Pannu in the shoes of an athlete and time and again, she keeps filling them in as well - from hockey to athletics and now, even cricket. This time around, the actor's work was cut out for her as she had to step into the role of Indian cricketing legend - Mithali Raj, as Taapsee essayed her role in the upcoming sports biopic Shaabash Mithu.
Although few can guess from the looks of the trailer which sees Taapsee hitting sixers, straight drives and clean sweeps with an easy grace that Taapsee has been a stranger to the sport when it comes to playing it before this film but a lot of hard work went into readying Taapsee for this role.
In making Taapsee fit the bill and look the part of the sensational batter Mithali Raj was on the field for the film that promises to be a game-changer for women's sports in India and boost more interest in the Women in Blue, was Nooshin Al Khadeer, the current coach of the Indian Railways team and a former teammate of Mithali Raj and her friend as well, who was roped in to help Taapsee prep for the role.
"Taapsee's desire to learn was the best part about training her. She was always dedicated and patient during the practice sessions, always willing to do the hard work. Her energy surprised me and it's quite commendable for an actor to put in so much to get the role right," Nooshin tells The Bridge, all praises about Taapsee's attention to her craft.
"The first time we saw her, she didn't have an idea about the grip but within a span of 15-20 days, she really picked it up and improved well," mentions Nooshin, nodding to Taapsee's ability to quickly learn and adapt to the nuances demanded for her character.
Moreover, the atmosphere on the film set was almost like a locker room with sports buffs all around.
If Taapsee's penchant for all things sporty is fairly known what with her string of sports films on her CV to her ownership of a Premier Badminton League (PBL) team, the film's director Srijit Mukherji has claimed over and over again how his first love is cricket and then cinema, making the whole Shabaash Mithu experience all the more flavoured with the right sporty elements needed for the film.
"I have known Mithali for so long as we have been teammates, friends and therefore it was a wonderful experience on the sets of Shaabash Mithu training Taapsee. With me being a coach now, it has become easier for me to explain and break it down and Taapsee also picked it up well," she adds.
"She is always interested in an India match and is quite the sports enthusiast, we often discuss and chat about it hence. It's not like she is only doing this for her job, she genuinely shares a love for sports and it's wonderful to see that enthusiasm," Nooshin mentions.
Power of cinema
Sports biopics, with their moving and inspiring storylines, can be great conversation starters - the first marker for a change. Cinema is powerful, especially in a country like India where Bollywood films are consumed readily and if it's a sports film, the hype is even more. Just like Chak De! India led to a newfound interest in hockey, Mary Kom in boxing, and Shaabash Mithu, with its story of Mithali Raj almost single-handedly taking Indian women's cricket to the pages of fame, is also expected to cause a similar effect.
"I remember how after the release of MS Dhoni, we had so much buzz and interest around cricket with parents wanting to admit their kids for cricket coaching. Movies are very powerful, especially in India and I believe Shabaash Mithu can also spark a change in women's cricket and women's sports in India," Nooshin says with conviction.
"I'm expecting more young girls will come forward after this movie and pick up the bat after getting inspired by Mithali's journey," she says, a tinge of optimism in her voice.
In any case, women's cricket is at an exciting juncture in this country with the Women in Blue, under the leadership of Mithali Raj having climbed fresh heights, who captained the side in 4 World Cups and shepherded them to the finals on two occasions, as well.
In June, after a final outing at the Women's ODI World Cup in New Zealand, Mithali Raj hung up her shoes and retired from all forms of cricket, bringing her phenomenal 23-year-long cricketing career to an end.
Her much-awaited biopic, Shaabash Mithu, with Taapsee Pannu in the biographical role will release on 15th July 2022 in the theatres and is directed by Srijit Mukherji.