Mumbai: Much have been said about their off the court feud that led to the abolition of India’s greatest double combination in tennis. But both Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes also bonded on a number of subjects other than tennis. They shared interests in food, music and movies, and all these were a stress buster for them.
Bhupathi is one half of the star tennis duo nicknamed the ‘Indian Express’. He said they spent a lot of time off court watching Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s 1995 blockbuster Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) particularly.
“We like the same food, music. We watched a lot of movies together as we were travelling day in and day out for tours. Movies were just like a stress buster for us. I remember we watched Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge multiple times,” Bhupathi said.
“So, we’d watch English, Hindi movies, whatever we could, because we were working pretty hard so this was kind of an outlet for us. These are things that made the journey much easier,” Bhupathi added.
The tennis stars were the first doubles team from India to win at Wimbledon in 1999. They revisited their journey in the upcoming non-fiction series Break Point. Directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari, the ZEE5 non-fiction series explores the on-court partnership of Paes and Bhupathi and their off-court lives.
Bhupathi, 47, said a lot of filmmakers in the past had approached them to make a project revolving around the duo. However, nothing excited them till Ashwiny and Nitesh turned up.
“When I heard that Nitesh and Ashwiny were interested in talking to us then it was exciting because they’re amazing storytellers. That’s when I spoke to Leander and we got on a call with Nitesh and Ashwiny. In them we found that comfort level to tell a story in the way we thought was best for people to consume it,” informed Hesh of the Lee-Hesh combo.
For Bhupathi, the most special moment from his partnership with Paes is the win at Wimbledon. “I think the pinnacle of our success was probably winning Wimbledon in 1999. That was a big dream for us and it came true. So that’s definitely the highlight.”
Bhupathi recalled meeting Paes for the first time in Colombo in 1991 and the two soon played their first tournament in 1994 in Jakarta.
“I was excited. We are very different when it comes to personalities. So dreaming is one thing, executing is another. So, for me it was very important to do the hard work and get it done, which we are very proud of,” asserted Bhupathi. “Very quickly it became apparent that there was something special there because we were winning a lot of matches,” he added.
Bhupathi described Paes (48) as ‘an unorthodox player’, whom he admires. “He is a great tennis player. He has the ability to kind of raise his game in big moments. He is a serve and volley specialist we don’t get to see very often in tennis. Off the court, he is a very generous human being and we struck a friendship very quickly,” informed Lara Dutta’s husband.
Also called ‘Lee-Hesh’, the duo played together from 1994 to 2006 and reunited for their second stint from 2008 to 2011. They brought plenty of laurels to India but later they had a public fallout.
Reflecting on their split, Chennai-born Bhupathi said that time period was ‘tough’ for them.
“It was very tough on both of us. Personally, for me I was going through a lot that year because I had surgery on my shoulder. And there were a lot of ifs and buts in my head, like will I be able to play tennis at a high level again? Will I be able to be successful? Because Leander was my first partner coming out of college and I never played with anybody else. So, it was a very tough time but we bounced back pretty well,” Bhupathi added.
During the difficult time, as a professional athlete, Bhupathi said he always kept himself motivated. “We are always motivated because to achieve anything you have to set aside challenges. There will always be challenges small or big and we should always put in hard work day in and out to try and achieve what we want to,” asserted the doubles legend.
About Break Point, the tennis player said the series will capture their 12-year journey. “We have put it all out. We did it independently so we had the comfort level to put it all out there. We’ve made a big effort to keep it raw and real and hopefully it will be appreciated by everyone who watches it,” he said.
The show will begin streaming Friday.