Progeria, a serial killer exclusively murdering film critics, sanitary napkins, a female cricketer with a disability.
You can call R Balki many things, you certainly can’t call him dull.
Saiyami Kher is Anina, a cricketer in training with an over enthu daadi. Daadi, played by Shabana Azmi goes to her games and keeps her own scorecard, and never lets go of an opportunity to make a sports pun/reference. Her widowed father, played by a very VERY endearing Shivendra Singh Dungarpur dotes on her, two brothers, and a childhood sweetheart supporting her in every lovely way possible. But before her dream of playing for India can come true, she meets with an accident, loses her right arm and life comes to stand still. Until a dishevelled, alcoholic, disgraced ex-cricketer takes it upon himself to coach her, from batter to bowler.
As far as sports stories go, the premise for this is as exciting as any. Here is a female sportsperson, playing majorly a male-dominated sport AND she has a new disability she must learn to live with. Plus Saiyami Kher has an unusually pronounced vibe of child-like naivety about her, at least very pronounced here, that makes you believe that this sheltered kid didn’t quite realize her name is palindrome until Abhishek Bachchan shows it to her on a piece of paper. I mean, why else would a fully grown woman beat up an old friend, literally drawing blood, as a way to tell him she missed him. While decidedly odd, this playground behavior gives way to the cricket stadium without the cliched rousing monologue from the protagonist.
However, this infantilizing also doesn’t allow Anina to own her own narrative, instead handing the credit to frankly a very unlikeable man. It’s what I call the Ki and Ka road paved with good intentions and cursory exploration of interesting ideas.
The monologue given is also handed over to the man here who talks of his frustrations, a little too much, with little nuance. Abhishek Bachchan is a fine performer and occupies the screen in a way only good actors do. There is a magnetism about the actor, you can’t HELP but pay attention to every word he says, every twitch of his face. Isliye it’s that much more jarring the AMOUNT of footage his father Amitabh Bachchan ONCE AGAIN has in this Balki film. Sure it’s a cameo, he’s playing himself as a guest commentator in THE defining cricket match of the film, but it extends for far too long, Sr. Bachchan is seemingly TOO pleased to be there, too melodramatic, interrupting and ultimately breaking the emotional connection one had developed with this monologue giving, whiskey drinking, tree house living cricketer Paddy Sodhi.
I mean, the elongated presence of Amitabh Bachchan only serves to remind you this is a world where Abhishek Bachchan also lives, creating an unnecessary paradox.
Saiyami Kher has CLEARLY worked so very hard at getting good at cricket, even with my limited understanding of the sport, I can tell her batting stance and bowling action are not just regulation, but competitively good. While I may not know a whole lot about training to be a cricketer, I do know a few things about life without an arm. I’ve seen at close quarters how one ties shoelaces with one hand, chopping vegetables, cooking, getting dressed up for Diwali, AND I’m cognizant that not all disability experiences are the same. Here writers Balki, Rahul Sengupta, and Rishi Virmani bring as much honesty as they can, largely succeeding. Sure there are many training montages, stereotypical of the genre, but is also a very long scene where Anina single-handedly, pun not intended, cuts down overgrown bushes to create a makeshift cricket pitch, metaphorically and literally making room for herself in a densely packed, thorny world.
A stunning and very funny Ivanka Das plays Paddy Sodhi’s house staff Rasika, and while she is made to mention her transness a bit, there isn’t a sad narrative built around her presence in Sodhi’s life. She is empowered, unafraid to give as good as she gets, and included in the narrative simply as a supporting actor, with no heightened theatrics attached or required
Ghoomer takes the very bold decision to keep the competitive cricket playing limited to only ONE match, that to an ODI, choosing to set the entire third act in a contained physical location. While this makes for a more concentrated, intense viewing experience, it also makes the actors and dialogue work that much harder. All of Anina’s biggest fears are about to come true, within ONE day, will she catch a break? Saiyami Kher’s hard work does pay off here and despite all the rockiness leading up to this point, I will go so far as to say this might be a better cricket movie than 83. At least it has something to say, a point to make.
Theatres mein dekh aayein, phir batana comments mein.