The parting of ways between tennis players Leader Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi is one of Indian sport’s great controversies. The champions in the men’s doubles category stopped playing together when they were at their peak. They have since had a largely strained relationship for the better part of two decades.
Break Point addresses this question from every possible angle. The seven-episode Zee5 docuseries, directed by Nitesh Tiwari and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, is dedicated to uncovering the reasons for the dramatic Lee-Hesh divorce.
Apart from conversations with Paes and Bhupathi, the makers interview family members, friends, coaches and journalists. Valuable context is also provided by conversations with a host of global tennis stars, including Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, Martina Hingis, the Bryan Brothers, and Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, widely considered the best doubles team in the world.
The Paes-Bhupathi story organically has all the right elements to build a narrative arc, which the documentary uses to full effect: conflict, plot twist and resolution. This foreshadowing, despite knowing how the story ends, works because the build-up is rich with details, voices and match clips.
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari have skillfully used the thrill of live sports in their feature films, including Dangal and Panga. In Break Point, video footage of major moments reminds us of the glory years of one of Indian tennis’s most exciting doubles pairs.
Break Point covers the decade between the spectacular rise and the big rift. It begins with the origin story of the Paes-Bhupathi pairing and their subsequent success. Paes and Bhupathi were the first and only Indian pair to win Grand Slams as a team.
By 1999, they had reached the men’s doubles final of all four Grand Slams and win the French Open and Wimbledon titles. This was also the last year they played together as a regular team.
The fallout didn’t happen overnight – an aspect that emerges in the series through multiple interviews with the players. The rigorously researched show excels in providing a well-rounded and balanced look at both players, their personalities and perspectives. Each is both sinner and saint, providing his side of the story with frankness.
Creditably, the players discuss a personal relationship that is said to have been the trigger for the end of the partnership. Their current romantic partners are kept out of the picture – a clever move that ensures that Break Point is a purely sports-focussed project.
Claims and statements are balanced by explanations and reactions from the people involved. Third-party opinions and match footage are seamlessly woven by editor Charu Shree Roy to maintain a constant vibe of tension and turmoil.
An interesting stylistic choice is to have both players address their mutual problems in separate spaces. Paes and Bhupathi are shown in different locations and don’t come face to face for the bulk of the show.
A reflection of the continuing strain in their ties or a clever gimmick to ratchet up the drama and build towards a climax? It would have been more compelling to have the players interacting with each other at some point. While the decision to keep the players apart creates suspense, we miss out on the opportunity of witnessing first-hand the fabled team dynamic described in such detail during the course of the series.
For a sports fan and a tennis geek, Break Point is a highly fascinating and fairly informative watch. It certainly satisfies the long-standing curiosity of the average Indian sports fan. For a casual watcher who has little context for why the Lee-Hesh split was so important in the 2000s, it is debatable whether a series looking at just one aspect of Indian tennis is compelling enough over seven episodes.
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