April 25, 2023
In Humjoli (1970), a remake of the Tamil film Panakkara Kudumbam (1964), actors Leena Chandavarkar and Jeetendra press their cheeks together through a badminton net. A smiling Chandavarkar, donning a highlighter-pink salwar kameez with a matching headscarf, serves the shuttlecock to Jeetendra, who wears a white shirt and trousers. “Dhal gaya din, ho gayi shaam,” Chandavarkar’s character croons.
Chandavarkar had initiated not only the badminton match, but also their courtship — even the gentle “tuck” of the shuttlecock sounded flirtatious. The original film, which starred M.G. Ramachandran and B. Saroja Devi, also included a similar, lighthearted sequence on a badminton court. In Om Shanti Om (2007), actors Deepika Padukone and Shah Rukh Khan pay homage to their hip-shaking predecessors, dressed as an Indian Barbie and Ken.
Badminton — a racquet sport that, similar to tennis, involves players volleying the shuttlecock across the net to each other — is rarely depicted in South Asian pop culture. That honor usually goes to cricket, the most-watched sport in the subcontinent. Yet, in recent weeks, from Apple CEO Tim Cook playing a game with India’s badminton champions to actor Anushka Sharma volleying shots with husband and cricketer Virat Kohli, badminton — suddenly — is everywhere.