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R. Balki looks back at Ghoomer: ‘I make a film because there’s a story I want to tell’

Starring Saiyami Kher, Abhishek Bachchan, Shabana Azmi and Angad Bedi, Ghoomer is now streaming on ZEE5

Entertainment Web Desk Calcutta Published 10.11.23, 10:22 AM
R. Balki with his Ghoomer cast members Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher

R. Balki with his Ghoomer cast members Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher

Just like Shabana Azmi, you don’t need to know cricket to appreciate a film like Ghoomer, says director R. Balki, who wrote the story specifically for Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher. With Ghoomer streaming on ZEE5, Balki recounts the challenges he overcame to bring this inspirational story alive.

What inspired you to make Ghoomer?

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R. Balki: Ghoomer is not a film about cricket with disabilities. It is a film about when you’re challenged in life, how you invent and how you come up with absolutely ingenious ways to become a champion.

If you don’t know cricket, if you don’t know the game, it’s absolutely okay because I think anybody who loves any sport will enjoy this film. You will enjoy the film for the performances and the human dilemmas it portrays as well as for the support, inspiration and determination the characters in this film exhibit.

I don’t make films with the deliberate intention of exploring themes of inclusivity or diversity. I make a film because there’s a story I want to tell. In the process, yes, the characters I create happen to be inclusive. I think that’s just a part of the way I think about characters. It’s not something I deliberately aim to do.

Can you share any memorable moments or challenges you faced during the production of the movie?

R. Balki: The challenge was immense for Saiyami Kher, having her hand tied up and attempting to bowl with her unnatural arm, her left arm, and playing alongside professional cricketers, many of whom were at the national level. Creating a choreographed action that appeared authentic was the primary challenge. It was truly magical to witness. For me, the most remarkable aspect of the film was her unwavering dedication, her skill and her profound love for the sport.

Can you talk about the casting of the movie?

R. Balki: This film was written specifically for Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher. It would not have been possible without Saiyami, who is not only a cricketer but also a natural sportsperson and a fabulous actor. This combination of talents is very rare, I think possibly only one in Bollywood. Saiyami here was my first and only choice, and I did not doubt that her performance would be genuine and impactful. She delivered the best because she was a cricketer herself and not only is she a cricketer but she’s also a fine actor who dedicated days and months of training to develop a bowling action that has never been seen before in cricket.

Ghoomer stands out as more than just another cricket film; it doesn’t borrow from the cliches of cricket bats and cricket matches.

And, of course, Abhishek Bachchan, because the film mirrors many aspects of his own life. It reflects his intensity and the deep pain he carries, which he can convey with casual ease because of his sense of humour. Despite the challenges in his own life, he is the only person who can handle them with a smile and a sense of humour. So, the film required someone who could give so much to another person despite dealing with their own inner turmoil and angst. I believe Abhishek is the pivot of this film. What he brought to the table, the way he portrayed being an alcoholic, was remarkable. He once told me that like most alcoholics, they tend to act erratic when craving alcohol. So, he played it very coolly, not like your typical drunkard slurring. He played it with intensity. Of course, I might have mentioned this before, but having Amitabh Bachchan as a commentator has always been a dream of mine. With a voice like his, I can easily picture him in the commentary box.

Shabana Azmi, what an actor! She doesn’t know a thing about cricket. However, she pretended and learnt a lot about the game during the film, and now she’s in love with it, watching every game. Her ability to pretend like she knew everything about the game was quite beautiful.

Working with Bishan Singh Bedi, the world’s greatest left-arm spinner, was a dream come true, thanks to Angad (Bedi) who made it happen. It was an absolutely mind-blowing experience when we went to shoot with him. He said ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and he conveyed everything to the camera, fully aware despite being in a wheelchair. Hearing him talk about his love for Tiger Pataudi was just awesome. Discussing Shivi, for example, I call him ‘Mr Cinema’ because he’s preserving most of the cinema that people loved. His debut and natural performance were truly awesome.

Regarding Ivanka Das, I found her character one of the most intriguing aspects of the story. She underwent a sex change and is now a girl, having been a boy before. Her transition and her relationship with Abhishek’s character were fascinating to witness. For Abhishek, she’s just another person. It’s something he’s handled well, and it’s good for someone to represent that. I found their relationship captivating to explore and depict.

The cricket scenes in Ghoomer are visually stunning. What went into creating those sequences?

R. Balki: The cricket scenes in the film are visually stunning primarily because we shot cricket the same way it is captured on television every day. However, we took it a step further by using an 18-camera setup with a professional crew. Instead of cutting from one shot to the ball hitting the boundary, we ensured that all boundaries and shots were real, including Saiyami bowling with her arm spinning around. She is bowling a Yorker in one take, in one shot. We never made any cuts, so the cricket scenes are visually breathtaking. Even the crowd was added once we edited the film, so all the crowd reactions were absolutely genuine for each shot that was being played.

Ghoomer puts a strong emphasis on themes of overcoming adversity, family support and pursuing dreams. How did you navigate these themes while ensuring they resonated with the audience?

R. Balki: I think that when a person faces an extremely challenging situation or experiences bad luck, they need the support of their family and their partner, portrayed by Angad, as well as the family played by Shabana and Shivi, and her brothers. Everyone is rooting for her because we don’t need any more adversity in our personal lives beyond what destiny has already thrown at us.

Therefore, I believe that family support is essential for someone facing challenges in becoming a champion. I always believe that in relationships, everyone hopes for support like this. When you’re watching a film, it’s all about wishing, ‘Oh God, I wish I had a family like this. I wish I had support like this. I wish I had a grandmother like this.’ Shabana plays the most crucial character because having a cricket-crazy grandmother is rare but very possible in our country.

How is Ghoomer different from all the other sports-related movies available?

R. Balki: I think when you want to make a film like Ghoomer, it’s not just about creating another sports film but about crafting a highly emotional narrative. It’s about the challenges and creativity involved. It’s about not saying ‘I can’t do it’ and it’s about not even considering the impossible. I believe Ghoomer stands apart from other sports-related films because it doesn’t merely depict another game; it contributes to the sport by uncovering something new that the game has never witnessed. Ghoomer is much more than just cricket; it’s a story of almost impossible feats and overcoming human challenges.

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