The underdog sports movie genre gets a new entrant with GHOOMER - a must-watch film for cricket fans. The stunningly beautiful Saiyami Kher stars as Anina, a hard-working, talented batter who is the victim of a hit-and-run car accident on the eve of making her debut for the Indian ODI team. Anina survives but without her right-arm, and understandably becomes suicidal at the thought of losing her cricket career. This is where Abhishek Bhachchan's alcoholic, brutish, Paddy steps in. He too was frustrated by injury and lost his Indian test career, and tells Anina she can indeed rescue her career by retraining as a left-handed spin bowler (ghoomer). He trains her himself, with brutal, harsh methods that nonetheless work and lead to a deeply emotional, rousing finale.
What I like about this film is that it by and large avoids schmaltz in every aspect except the final cricket scene. Anina is strong and largely silent, and we see the hard work taken to retrain. The love story with her childhood sweetheart (Angad Bedi) is downplayed and his character is very much seen as a side story to her rehabilitation and success. Anina's dad is proud and supportive but it's her sensible and intelligent grandma (Shabana Azmi - deadpan, superb!) who is her real coach, mixing her smoothies, scoring her matches and telling her not to trust in superstition. And thank goodness the film does not attempt to give Paddy a redemption arc, or to hide his unpleasant, brutish character. This is not just in respect to Anina but also to Rasika (Ivanka Das), Paddy's adoptive trans sister. He isn't nice. He doesn't become nice. He doesn't magically get sober. The focus of our interest and emotion is thus Anina and if I cried at the final fifteen minutes of this film it was entirely in admiration of her strength and courage, as portrayed by Saiyami Kher. And that's as it should be.
While Kher is clearly the breakout star here, and Azmi is the the backbone of the film, I have to say that this is Bhachchan's finest performance since GURU. I would love to see him tackle more challenging, dramatic material not he back of this.
The resulting film is one that is a must-watch for cricket fans, and indeed comes complete with endorsements from Tendulkar and a cameo from Bishan Singh Bedi. I can't imagine it would be easy to follow without some knowledge of the game. But given that knowledge, how wonderful to feel so engaged in this truly inspiring fiction.
My only issue with the film is the way that Rasika's character is used to soften Paddy's character. Is it really fair to have our one trans character have no real life of her own other than to serve her brother, and show that he does have a sympathetic side? Or maybe it's refreshing to see a trans character without her gender or sex life be the centre of the plot? Either way I was pleased to see the representation.
GHOOMER has a running time of 135 minutes and is rated 12A. It was released globally on August 18th.