Ghoomer is full of heart



Abhishek A. Bachchan and Saiyami Kher in Ghoomer. Photo: Sterling Entertainment 

Writer-director R. Balki has had a generally illustrious record in looking at human beings placed in unusual situations, relationships that are real but often disturbed, and social or personal problems that can be solved with sensitivity, courage and empathy. His entire body of work, excluding the more-than-deviant Shamitabh, shows his real-meets-fancifully idealistic sensibilities. Obviously, he never repeats a genre, and few films can exclude his lucky mascot—Amitabh Bachchan, present here as well in a cameo as a commentator.

The Bachchans, as with Paa and Shamitabh earlier, also co-produce this film, which at face-value, seems to be another sports drama with the usual template of crisis and resolution after challenges. We have had a surfeit of such stories in the last two decades and more, with Lagaan probably being the first to set the ‘goal’ and Chak De! India at the creative peak in the genre.

Cricket, the other Indian obsession along with cinema, is the topic again, and the inspiration seems to clearly Hungarian Karoly Takacs. Balki still goes different though: Karoly was a male, had a damaged right hand, won at the Olympics with his left hand, and as a shooter. This time, Anina is a female, she brings in the crucial win for India against England in a one-day cricket match, and has an amputated right arm.

A slight issue with all mid-stream filmmakers is their resolute desire to mix realism with larger-than-life or mainstream requirements—but in misguided proportions. For a serious emotional drama like this, we needed to have a more convincing background about how disgraced cricketer Padam Singh Sodhi a.k.a. Paddy (Abhishek A. Bachchan) now lives a comfortable life in Mumbai, somewhere in the midst of what seems like a mini-forest. He stays with a ‘sister’ in Rasika (Ivanka Das), who, we are fleetingly told, has been rescued by him from a brutal past. That said, Paddy downs liquor as if he owns a chain of liquor shops, and treats her little better than how a chauvinistic male would treat his wife or even a lowly maid! But how does he earn a living???

No details are also forthcoming for Anina’s grandmother’s mammoth and in-depth knowledge and passion about cricket, the technicalities of its rules, and dollops of international cricket history as well. This would not have needed much footage (a few sentences or visuals would have sufficed) but made her character well-rounded.

The reason why Paddy comes to help Anina, whose game he had severely criticized earlier, comes out towards the end of the film and is an interesting twist. But it is more than a shade incredible how Anina etches out a cricket pitch in Paddy’s jungle-like backyard, though her efforts, including cooking for her family and tying her own shoelaces with one hand, are inspiring for a viewer and a motivator for the physically-challenged.

The medical details are well-researched, and the technical aspects good, though again a Balki ‘kink’, the Paddy sequences at his home are shot with needless darkness, akin to noir cinema. The background score by Amit Trivedi is competent, but his songs suffer, mainly due to mediocre lyrics.

Did I forget to tell you the storyline? I did! But such stories, with obvious individual variations, are predictable, the word underlined, italicized and in bold font! A brilliant cricketer, Anina, has an accident on the eve of her departure to England as a representative of her country. Her right arm has to be amputated and she is devastated. However, a frustrated ex-cricketer, Paddy, offers to train her for the next year’s selection of Indian women to represent India overseas. He is brutally strict and snarky with her, and she, of course, makes it, thanks to his teaching her a special spin (ghoomer). And their relationship gradually transform into one of mutual respect.

A good aspect about Balki’s films in general is the fact that no one is a really negative character. The selector’s contingent, Anina’s family and her colleagues are good souls all, never mind if that reduces the drama. Again, this is a feel-good mainstream element, possibly inspired by the Sooraj R. Barjatya school. But given this plot, I am relieved that there is no human angle (even of condescending pity) to dilute the focus.

The dialogues are lifelike, with sudden great one-liners that pass quickly and we have to quickly note their pith. On the other hand, the play-to-the-gallery kind are also in fettle, like the Jab ek darwaza band hota hai and the ‘Life ka logic’ sequence.

Balki as a performance-extractor has always maintained his position among our best, and Saiyami Kher is more than magnificent as Anina. Her frustration during her down phase after her mishap, her mercurial relationship with boyfriend Jeet (Angad Bedi) and her interactions with her temperamental coach are fabulous. She brings in the right determination, the perfect vulnerability and a charming and guileless innocence to Anina.

Abhishek A. Bachchan once again shows his immense range as an actor, and any histrionic similarities on occasion to his father are as organic as, say Sunny Deol’s to Dharmendra.

Shabana Azmi, as Anina’s daadi, towers in an understated but totally real performance. You just get to watch a real doughty, old but fit upper middle-class woman, who is a cricket maniac and a tough believer in hard work and supports her granddaughter at all stages. Balki uses her character to make charming digs at believing too much in luck and devotion rather than discipline and concentration.

Film archivist Shivendra Singh Dungarpur is a delight in his (if I am not mistaken) debut performance as Anina’s father, while Ivanka Das brings in all the necessary shades to her character of Paddy’s sister-cum-homekeeper Rasika. Angad Bedi is average and the rest are good, with Nyla Masood standing out as the head of the selection committee.

The film is all heart, just like Balki’s last venture, Chup, and could have been worked on a little more to be a great experience. Of course, we leave the theatre feeling good. But then it is a Balki film anyway.

Rating: ***1/2

Hope Film Makers’ & Saraswati Entertainment’s Ghoomer Produced by: R. Balki, Gauri Shinde, Abhishek A. Bachchan, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala & Ramesh Pulapaka Directed by: R. Balki  Written by: R. Balki, Rahul Sengupta & Rishi Virmani Music: Amit Trivedi  Starring: Shabana Azmi, Abhishek A. Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, Angad Bedi, Nyla Masood, Ivanka Das, Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagya Bhanushali, Young Jeet, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Akshay Joshi, Sumali Khaniwale, Krishna Kotian, Preeti Agarwal, Sumant Nitturkar, Piyush Raina & others



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