When will we see a biopic on PT Usha?

This question has been doing the rounds ever since Ashwini, a Telugu biopic on Ashwini Nachappa, the first athlete to end Usha’s near-complete dominance on the Indian track for 15 years, was released in 1991. After all, Usha’s fascinating journey from Payyoli in Kerala’s Kozhikode district to the international track-and-field arena had all the ingredients of an awe-inspiring movie. There have been a string of semi-biographical sports biopics, including Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Mary Kom (2014), Dangal (2016), and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, but nothing on Usha.

Close to two decades after she retired from international athletics, the inspiring journey of the first Indian woman to make it to the finals of an Olympics event will finally be narrated on the screen. “Yes, I have given permission for a biopic on me,” Usha confirmed. “It is too early to divulge details about the project.”

After a decade of dreaming about the project and several years of working on convincing the athlete, director Revathy S Varmha finally managed to get the go-ahead from Usha for the movie. Varmha has seven movies – including Tamil film June R and Malayalam movie Maad Daad – and more than 450 ad films under her belt.

Varmha said the movie, called PT Usha, will feature music by AR Rahman. Sajish Sargam, who works as a cardiologist, will make his debut as a screenplay writer. The movie will be made in English and dubbed in four other languages: Hindi, Malayalam, Chinese and Russian.

Usha had given the nod for the movie two years ago. “But I kept it a closely guarded secret till now,” Varmha said. The filmmaker is eager to start work on the project. “I am a big fan of Usha. In fact, I have been nurturing this movie dream for more than a decade,” she said.

PT Usha. Junji Kourokawa/AFP.
PT Usha. Junji Kourokawa/AFP.

Surprisingly, the filmmaker is looking at actors outside Kerala to play Usha. Varmha is in talks with Priyanka Chopra to play the titular role. “Chopra was excited when she heard about the movie,” she said. “Her jawline is similar to Usha’s. She has a sporty physique. It will help her adapt to the excruciating filming sessions.”

But Chopra, who has been dividing her time between Bollywood, Hollywood and American television projects over the last few years, is yet to confirm her availability. “She [Chopra] starred in Mary Kom’s biopic in 2014, so I am not sure whether people would accept her as Usha,” Varmha added. “Moreover, the actor should stay with the team for a long period to interact with Usha and learn about her life. We may have to recreate several athletic competitions too.”

Sonam Kapoor is also being considered for the role, Varmha said. “Everything will be finalised within six months.”

Sprinting to success

Sports fans are also eager to know who will play the role of OM Nambiar, the coach who spotted Usha at the age of 12 and honed her skills as an athlete at a government-run sports school in Kannur in 1976. “Yes, I know the role of Nambiar in Usha’s career,” Varmha said. “I will finalise the character soon.”

Known as Payyoli Express, Usha has won more than 100 medals in various international competitions and held national records in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 400m categories One of her finest moments, and possibly biggest heartbreaks, was at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when she missed the bronze medal by 1/100th of a second. But Usha did have the honour of becoming the first Indian woman to reach the semi-finals of the mega sporting event.

The athlete retired from competitive sports in 2000 and went on to establish her dream project, the Usha School of Athletics, in her home district of Koyilandy, where she trains budding athletes.

Varmha said Usha has plenty of fans in China and Russia, which is why they are dubbing the movie into the languages of both countries. “We want to tap that market too,” the director said. “People in both the countries admire Usha a lot, probably more than we Indians do.”