Bollywood has released quite a few surprisingly good movies this year, as in, they looked like the most cliche things in existence and ended up subverting every expectation. Satyaprem Ki Katha seemed like a run-of-the-mill Kartik Aaryan flick, but it turned out to be a deep discussion on sexual abuse, definitions of pride and honor, feminism, and how men need to do better. Neeyat seemed like a cheap copy of the Knives Out films, but it turned out to be a tale of queer revenge disguised as a whodunit. Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani seemed like a desperate attempt to ride the “families are everything” wave, but that turned out to be a critique of the very things Indian upper caste families associate with tradition. OMG 2 seemed like a cheap cash grab, but it turned out to be a meticulous takedown of prude institutions and an attempt to promote sex education. Now, it’s one thing to do the unexpected after claiming that you’re basic AF, but it’s a whole other thing to promise that you’re going to do something unexpected and deliver on that promise. Such is the case with Ghoomer, with its talented cast and interesting premise. So, how has it fared? Let’s find out.
Balki’s Ghoomer, which he has co-written with Rahul Sengupta and Rishi Virmani, tells the story of Anina, an aspiring cricketer, and a brilliant student, especially when it comes to physics. She stays with her father, two brothers, and grandmother. Her childhood best friend and lover is Jeet. Anina makes her way through the state-level games and finally gets to attend the tryouts for the Indian team. She performs spectacularly and impresses the members of the selection board. But the process is interrupted by a former test player and current drunkard, Padam Singh Sodhi. He claims that Anina is good for nothing, that she’s too superstitious, and she shouldn’t be selected because she can’t even tackle his bowling. He mocks her after she actually gets selected for the Indian team. However, when Anina loses one of her hands in a traffic collision, Padam shows up at her doorstep with the offer to coach her. Anina initially scoffs at this proposition. But after giving it some thought, she enters Padam’s “shrine” and starts learning how to bowl with just her left arm.
There’s a lot to love about Ghoomer. From the first scene itself, the writers talk about the uphill battle women face when it comes to a religiously followed sport like cricket. When men do it, it’s called a “gentleman’s game,” and even their immature behavior is labeled as “aggressive leadership.” But when a woman does the same, they are sexualized and unfairly scrutinized to such an extent that they are forced to worry about their image instead of their game. When the scenery shifts to Anina’s house, there’s a difference in how the men treat her versus how Anina’s grandmother treats her. Anina’s brothers are like backseat drivers who appear to know everything about cricket, except for playing cricket, and yet they think they have a say in Anina’s dreams and aspirations. Anina’s father isn’t technically misogynistic, but he fails to acknowledge Anina’s talent because he believes her success is a result of his prayers. However, Anina’s grandmother understands how important it is for Anina to be her own person in a male-dominated profession. That’s why, even if she sounds corny, pretentious, and self-serious, she keeps motivating Anina to be better.
Without delving too much into spoilers, during the phase when Anina is at her lowest, the writers address everything that’s possibly going through the audience’s mind. It’s our natural instinct to find fault when something catastrophic happens so that we can rationalize it. We refuse to see it as a random incident because that’ll make us lose all hope. And I was baffled at how the movie was answering every doubt and every question that was popping up in my mind. It’s like the writers were saying that we need to get over this and begin the problem-solving part of the narrative because that’s more important than self-pity. Anina and Padam’s relationship is hugely reminiscent of the mentor-mentee dynamic we’ve seen in movies like The Karate Kid, Creed, Chak De! India, and Whiplash. But unlike any of those movies, both the mentor and the mentee are in uncharted territory. They are laying the tracks in front of them as they go and simply improvising every time they hit a hurdle. That said, you’re never one step ahead of the writers because you’re so involved in seeing them overcome the latest obstacle that you don’t anticipate the next one, thereby making the viewing experience so engaging and thrilling!
Ghoomer is undoubtedly Balki’s best film. I know that his films are highly revered, and I like some of them too, but only in parts because there’s a certain kind of awkwardness to them, and he has a habit of fumbling the ending. I was expecting him to do it with this one too, but he didn’t! I think he exorcized his worst impulses and his need to worry about what critics will think about this work with Chup: Revenge of the Artist, and he has allowed himself to be sincere. His abstract artistic flourishes are still there, but they are all good (or maybe I’m looking too deeply into it). For example, the sound design around Anina’s strikes is a little weird. If you have ever played cricket or watched others play cricket, you know how the ball hitting a bat sounds. And I assumed it was a technical error (it can be a technical error, BTW). But when one of Anina’s strikes is followed up with a shot of Padam holding his cheek like he has been slapped, it all made sense. She isn’t just hitting the ball; she is sending every criticism leveled at her over the boundary line. Nipun Ashok Gupta’s editing is sporadically good and hinges on the melodrama a little too much. Vishal Sinha’s cinematography is exquisite. The whole film looks amazing. The actual cricket matches, the training sessions—all of it is captured fantastically. Additionally, it’s a really well-paced film.
Coming to the performances, Saiyami Kher and Abhishek Bachchan have totally knocked it out of the park (pun totally intended). It’s a physically demanding role, but Saiyami never makes it look like an act that’s meant to inspire everyone and garner praise just because it’s a “challenging role.” Her performance bypasses the able-bodied audience and directly speaks to the physically challenged and champions their spirit. It never feels performative. It feels genuine, and if this brings a change in the way able-bodied idiots view the world and motivates those who are physically challenged to care less about what people think about them, then it’s a job well done. Abhishek Bachchan is extracting his emotions from somewhere deep within his soul, and that’s what keeps Padam from becoming a stereotypical “drunk mentor” act. There’s a very meta monologue that Bachchan carries out with such gravitas that I knew he was the only one who could’ve pulled off this role. And, of course, Saiyami and Abhishek’s chemistry is splendid. They should get all the awards in the world. The supporting cast is undoubtedly amazing, but Shabana Azmi takes the cake here as the most feminist grandmother in the world! Ivanka Das’s casting is a major win for the trans community, and I love how Rasika is as outspoken about her gender identity as Ivanka. As for the cameos, fellow film enthusiast and podcaster Abbas Momin’s appearance is fun. Amitabh Bachchan kind of got on my nerves with his “jokes” and “nationalistic sentiments,” though.
In conclusion, Ghoomer is an amazing film and a must-watch for everyone. It’s a sports drama that respects the game it is centered around while critiquing everything that is wrong about it. Even its throwaway moments, like a member of the BCCI looking to capitalize on Anina’s condition or a female teacher watching the match, are there to make a point. At the cost of sounding repetitive, Saiyami Kher and Abhishek Bachchan are truly amazing in the film. I think it would have benefited from some good editing that didn’t cut away from the pivotal moments, especially during the concluding match. It’s one of the best-looking Bollywood films of the year. The title song is very catchy, which is always a good thing. It highlights the importance of atoning for one’s sins. And the film says that if you prioritize your skills over everything else, you won’t be indebted to anyone. With all that said, what you’ve just read is my opinion and my opinion only. Please go and watch Ghoomer on the big screen, form your own opinion, and then share your thoughts with us.