Home EntertainmentBollywood ‘Challengers’: Serving up a Sizzling Blend of Sports and Sensuality

‘Challengers’: Serving up a Sizzling Blend of Sports and Sensuality

by Dhruv Pandya
0 comment 6 minutes read

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: Justin Kuritzkes
Cast: Zendaya, Mike Faist, Josh O’Connor
Where to watch: In the cinema

In Luca Guadagnino’s new rompy tennis drama, Challengers, Zendaya plays Tashi Duncan, an unapologetically competitive tennis player; a woman with a mind of her own. Tashi Duncan is the It Girl, she makes no apologies for her game on and off the court.

While Zendaya is portrayed as the central character running the show and the movie’s press tours, the most intimate and delicate bond in the film is shared between Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). Art and Patrick have known each other since they were 12 years old. The feelings of a shared boyhood and the sexual tension that comes from it are so high, that even Tashi at one point in the film admits to feeling like a “homewrecker.”

The film allows us to soak in the waters of this sensual Bermuda Triangle, by meandering between the past and the present, like playing a game of tennis.

‘Tennis is a relationship’

In one of the initial, and what is also the most important scene in the film, Zendaya compares the sport of tennis with a relationship. The scene is painted in a beautiful manner. Zendaya in her blue party dress, open hair, the glow of the well-lit castle, against the backdrop of a dark sea is an inviting image for our boys in the film who are like two young fisherman who caught a fascinating little mermaid and do not know what to do with her but just be mesmerized by her existence and the way she moves. That my friends is my humble effort to read one of the many amazing scenes in this film. It is also a quick summary of the film. But don’t worry, we will dive into the depths of it soon. 

Challengers is not about tennis.

It is a far bigger powerplay about a woman so mysterious she might as well be a mermaid.

Dhruv Pandya

There are several other revealing scenes in the film, like the one in the motel room. The motel room with its moody light, stale cigarette smoke and probably the smell of Josh O’Connor’s socks marinates the characters to roast them in fire one after the other. The dynamics between these characters might suggest otherwise. It might look like only one of them is out to roast the others, turns out they are all in on the joke. The drama in Challengers is very much like something you would witness at a sexy barbecue party. Instead here, the characters are busy playing or pretending to play tennis.

Serving drama

One thing I really enjoyed about watching this movie is that it was a frustrating thrill, but quite enjoyable nevertheless. I would credit that to the climax scene which is the tiebreak round in the film. A lot of sports films in the past have adopted this technique very well, like Chak De India and Dangal, where the match is more than just a match. In those five long minutes, Challengers realises that it is hanging by a loose thread, and that made the whole experience much better.

Most people wouldn’t agree if I called a film like Challengers a thriller. But it is in fact a thriller in the truest sense. While chasing the thrills the film doesn’t in any way forget about the sport. There is something about the art of playing tennis matched with the messiness of human relationships.

On the surface, it might come across as a straightforward love triangle, but the more you try to look at it from all the people involved in the love triangle and understand their inner workings and motivations, a whole new perspective opens up. It is racy, sexy, risqué and very European. 

After a point, you don’t just see Tashi, Art and Patric as characters, they start to remind you of people you know. It’s like being in the same vicinity as them and observing this firecracker burst right in front of your face, but not knowing when it will or what it will bring out in you. Tashi is a woman who does things for the plot. And at every step, she ensures that the plot is what she wants it to be, and she will let you know.

A little sexy, a little sporty

Overall, Challengers is a brutal, reckless and highly flammable inner workings of a trio. We’ve all watched mixed doubles, but here you get to experience a masterfully crafted three-way on the tennis court. The film could’ve easily been a poorly executed threesome but in the hands of Luca the powerplays, kinks and emotional masochism come out in a brutally sexy rhythm.

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