A poignant and powerful tale on human resilience

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 Test 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), sports movies have largely been limited to formulaic rags-to-riches theme. Politics within a team, the team selection process and financial struggles of an athlete have dominated sports films so far. R Balki’s Ghoomer breaks this template to give you a poignant and powerful tale on human resilience and 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 focuses on 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 Anina so she could reenter 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 (Ivanka Das) and an aspiring cricketer battling a sudden 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?” Abhishek Bachchan bowls the best delivery of his career through a character that resonates with his life. The self-reflection makes it 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 her career defining role. Shabana Azmi’s majestic presence adds to the story.

R. Balki, Rahul Sengupta and Rishi Virmani’s writing makes you teary-eyed as well as chuckle a bit. “Woh leftie nahi left hi hai” says Paddy to Rasika describing Anina. Characters are refreshingly supportive, nonjudgmental, and good-hearted.

However, the film gets a tad predictable and crowd pleasing towards the end (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 cinematic liberties are aplenty but Ghoomer is an uplifting saga on the magic of hope and second chances. What happens when everything’s taken away from you in a span of few minutes? You reclaim it. “Kisisay koi cheez bewaja cheeni jaye, woh galat hai.” You can tell how obsessed Abhishek, Saiyami and Balki are about cricket after watching this one.

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