Anina (Saiyami Kher) is a young batting prodigy who is selected to play for the Indian women cricketer’s team. However, just before the eve of flying away to England, she loses her right hand in a road accident. Her dream shattered, she loses the will to live. At this juncture, Padam Singh Sodhi (Abhishek Bachchan), “Paddy” to his friends, enters her life. Paddy is a failed cricketer, who played for India for exactly one international test, before a freak injury shunted him out of the top echelon. He’s a man made up of contradictions, full of hope and bitterness in equal measure. He holds the world in disdain and is slowly drinking himself to death and yet is able to motivate Anina to overcome her handicap. He transforms her from a batter to a world class spin bowler, making her handicap work in her favour. She’s able to realise her dream thanks to his mentorship and makes a place for herself again in the national team. The climax sees her helping her team win a one-day match against England. It’s a triumph of spirit, of endurance and grants redemption to Paddy as well.
Ghoomer is Balki’s ode to women empowerment as well as inclusivity. Rasika (Ivanka Das), Paddy’s rakhi sister is a trans woman whom Paddy helped financially towards her operation. The relationship they have is akin to what siblings share. They fight, bicker but also care for each other a lot and are there for each other during times of need. Anna’s father and brothers love her to death and root for her always. And she finds another pillar of support in the form of childhood crush Jeet (Angad Bedi), who is happy to play second fiddle to her. Her biggest supporter is her dadi (Shabana Azmi) who is a cricket fanatic, knowing statistics of past greats by heart and has homely advice for every situation.
Balki is able to convincingly portray a loving, happy family who want Anina to come out of depression and live life again. Juxtaposed to them is Paddy, a harsh, bitter man who acts as Mr Miyagi, using occupational therapy of his own design to get her going. His barbs and unorthodox methods work their magic and Anina not only learns to overcome her handicap but also gets healed in spirit.
The sport choreography is done well and you do get the feel of an actual match during the climax. The cherry on the cake is Amitabh Bachchan’s cameo as a celebrity commentator who is totally biassed towards the Indian team. It was lovely to see veteran Shabana Azmi giving an understated performance as a caring grandmother who wants the world for her granddaughter. Angad Bedi should be applauded for playing a character who takes a back seat, letting the woman he loves be in the driving seat.
Balki knows how to give life to flawed characters and in Paddy and Anina, he finds counterpoints which complete each other. Paddy is shown to be a failure in the eyes of the world but a large heart beats beneath his gruff exterior. He’s tough on Anina as he understands this is his chance to taste victory again, something he wasn’t able to do earlier. Balki has been able to extract a sublime performance from Abhishek Bachchan. It can arguably be said to be one of his best so far. The scene where he drunkenly waxes eloquent on success and failure holds your attention like the Amitabh Bachchan monologues of yore. No wonder the father is being so proud of the son on social media. The actor looks like the perfect coach in the film. His mannerisms would remind you of your own strict sports teacher. Anina in the earlier portions is full of sunshine and light and we see that light getting dimmed after the accident, before bursting forth in its full glory again. Saiyami sails through all the graphs of her character like a pro. She’s good in emotional scenes and is completely at ease when it comes to playing cricket as well. Her body language in cricketing scenes is on point.
Watch the film for its lovely message and for the powerful performances by the two leads, Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher.
Trailer : Ghoomer
Renuka Vyavahare, August 17, 2023, 7:17 AM IST
Story: Just before making her dream debut in international cricket as a batsman, Anina Dixit (Saiyami Kher) loses her right hand in a freak accident. This ends her desire to live, until she stumbles upon an eccentric former cricketer turned alcoholic, Paddy (Abhishek Bachchan).
Review: R Balki’s Ghoomer, prioritises magic over logic (also a fantastic monologue by Abhishek), to tell a tale of human resilience and vulnerability. The film is inspired by the story of Károly Takács, the late Hungarian right-hand shooter who won two Olympic gold medals with his left hand after his other hand was seriously injured. Barring a few like Jayprad Desai’s outstanding cricket biopic ‘Kaun Pravin Tambe?’ (2022), Indian sports movies have largely been limited to the formulaic rags-to-riches theme. Politics within the team, team selection process and financial struggles of an athlete have dominated the narrative. R Balki’s Ghoomer breaks this template to give you a poignant and powerful tale on human resilience through cricket.
In true Balki style, gender and age-related roles, superstitions and stereotypes are dismissed seamlessly. Shabana Azmi brimming with a youthful spirit plays Anina’s cricket expert granny. A self-proclaimed Roger Federer fan (which the senior actress is in real life, too), her character’s knowledge of ICC cricket rules and regulations, cricket trivia and technique to recipes of health drinks for pro athletes, works well to shatter the notion that women don’t get statistics. This makes you wonder, why female cricket enthusiasts predominantly end up as cricket anchors and not experts.
The tortured yet endearing relationship between the rude coach and his player, is a common trope. Paddy resorting to a cruel training-toxic coach approach, is predictable but effective (remember Whiplash?). The film gains from their fiery conversations and differences. Paddy (Padam Singh Sodhi), is a loner who drowns his sorrows in a secluded house. His strange encounter with Anina changes their course of lives. He offers to train her so she could re-enter the Indian team as a one-handed bowler. He reminds himself, “Winners ko kaisay lagta hai, yeh ek baar mehsoos karna hai.” What makes the disgruntled misfit help Anina and transform her weakness into strength, forms the story.
Paddy shares a strange relationship with the women in his life. This includes his house help, transwoman Rasika (feisty Ivanka Das) and an aspiring cricketer battling a life-altering disability. We hear of his good deeds through Rasika, but that side of him is long buried under a brutally impolite, ill-mannered persona. The only time he refrains from passing a barrage of snide remarks is when he’s sleeping. Years of rejection have turned his anger into stoic silence. He remembers, “I dreamt of playing for India one day and I played for India only for a day.”
Meryl Streep’s introduction in the ‘Only Murders’… series as an actress who was never successful, sums up Paddy’s character. “All in pursuit of a moment in the spotlight, where you hope someone might see you and say, “where have you been”. What if those magic words never come and it’s only rejection, over and over again?” It takes courage for an actor to play a character that speaks his truth. Underrated for too long, Ghoomer gives Abhishek his due. He bowls the best delivery of his career. The self-reflection makes it all the more real.
The fact that Saiyami Kher is a cricketer-turned-actress, makes her the best choice for this extremely challenging part. One-handed bowling with just the left arm is no cakewalk but she nails it. Her athletic physique, stance and cricketing shots are impeccable. Her showdown with coach Paddy and boyfriend Jeet (Angad Bedi) are the film’s most moving scenes. Saiyami breathes life into a role that didn’t require her to wallow in self-pity and yet make her trauma seen. Shabana Azmi’s majestic presence and timing, is a treat to watch.
Ghoomer is elevated by its performances but its soul lies in R. Balki, Rahul Sengupta and Rishi Virmani’s uplifting writing that makes you both teary-eyed and chuckle. “Woh leftie nahi left hi hai” says Paddy to Rasika describing Anina. Characters are refreshingly supportive, non-judgmental, unpretentious and good-hearted.
The film struggles a bit towards the end. It gets a tad predictable and crowd pleasing (match portions) as the creative liberties get a bit excessive. Can India’s national cricket team give its much coveted spot to a one-armed spin bowler, who cannot bat or field properly? Is media attention and the equal opportunity stance of selectors enough to bend the rules? The artistic license is aplenty but Ghoomer consciously chooses magic, hope and second chances. Your mind takes a sudden jolt when thinking, “What happens when everything’s taken away from you in a span of few minutes? “Kisisay koi cheez bewaja cheeni jaye, woh galat hai.” You can tell how obsessed Abhishek, Saiyami and Balki are about cricket while watching this one.