Bollywood actors Abhishek Bachchan and Saiyami Kher received a standing ovation at the recent Indian Film Festival of Melbourne for their new film ‘Ghoomer,’ which will be released in UAE cinemas on August 18.
Directed by R Balki, whose credits include stirring films like ‘Cheeni Kum,’ ‘Paa,’ and ‘Pad Man,’ his new film delves into the disrupted life of a young female cricketer who loses her arm and must come to terms with her new troubled reality.
Her coach Paddy, played by Bachchan, guides her towards becoming a successful para-cricketer. And going by the reaction at the world premiere in Australia, he has knocked it out of the park with this film.
“It was very emotional… The occasion gets to you, and the audiences at that festival were unbelievably kind. ‘Ghoomer’ is an inspirational and uplifting film,” said Bachchan in an interview with Gulf News.
The son of legendary actors Jaya Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek, 47, has also co-produced this film, starring Saiyami Kher, Shabana Azmi and Angad Bedi. But he has a confession to make.
“I don’t very often produce films. I am not a good producer, and I seldom put my name as a producer. But ‘Ghoomer’ is a film I am immensely proud of, and I keep telling Saiyami that she’s phenomenal in this film. She’s the lynchpin and anchor and has been an absolute revelation,” said Bachchan.
In a separate interview, Kher described ‘Ghoomer’ as a challenging project that required authentic portrayals.
“There was a lot of pressure and responsibility because you are representing a section of society who may have faced a certain tragic event in their life. My biggest challenge was to make sure that I do this authentically. I was lucky I got support from a foundation in India that supports para athletes. I spoke to many para-athletes, including Ekta Bhyan, para Javelin thrower,” Kher had said.
Both Bachchan and Kher believe that ‘Ghoomer’ is an important story that needs to be told. Excerpts from our interview with Bachchan as we talk about his role as a troubled coach who believes in tough love and empowering his wards with grit…
Tell us more about your character in ‘Ghoomer’. He comes across as a frustrated coach who has a bone to pick with the entire world…
I guess you can classify Paddy as somebody who’s frustrated, cynical, acerbic, venomous, and he’s a drunk. He is not somebody who is going to look at the bright side of life. He’s matter-of-fact and blunt. He doesn’t pull any punches. What you see is what you get with Paddy. But despite all these characteristics, he manages to find some inspiration deep down within, puts all his negativity aside, and takes on the case of Saiyami’s character where he tries to help her achieve things that possibly he couldn’t achieve. He’s a complete antithesis of what a coach should be. All the characteristics and the qualities or values that we think a coach brings to the table, Paddy is the complete opposite of that. And that’s where Balki steps in because he always has a unique perspective and spin on everything. It was fun to play Paddy and also a challenge to play a guy who does not come across as this ideal coach.
Yes, you are no ray of sunshine. In fact, the scene where you goad Saiyami’s differently-abled character when she’s down and out was bold. She’s contemplating self-harm, and you are telling her ways to accomplish that. Were you worried that the scene could be perceived as offensive?
Not at all. Now that you have told me, I am going to start worrying! But honestly, once you see the film, you will begin to understand him because it’s actually Paddy’s way of normalising her and his staunch belief in her talent and potential. He’s convinced that if he treats her as someone special or feels bad for her, it’s not going to help her. The world has already given her enough reasons to feel bad for herself. The world around her doesn’t care if she is going to be feeling bad for herself or if she does not work hard at achieving what she needs to achieve. This is his way of normalising what has happened to her. Some of the themes that R Balki touched upon are dealt with in the most nonchalant manner — with almost a certain amount of disdain. It’s my character Paddy’s way of normalising the fact that she has just one arm and that she needs to work as hard as a person with two arms… He doesn’t want her to look for excuses and is not interested in a sob story. He wants her to just get up there and work. He is asking: ‘what’s your excuse? You have just one arm’.
Do you think tough love towards specially-abled folks will resonate?
The few that we managed to speak with and those that we might know in life, the one thing that they all want: ‘Just let us feel normal’. They all want to be treated normally. They don’t want to be the object of collective sympathy. So asking her to carry on with her sporting life, using her left arm, is his approach to making her feel normal and overcoming the tragedy. She can easily get consumed by self-pity. But this is his way of propelling her to get up and get going. It’s his way of saying: ‘I believe in you’. Throughout the course of the film, she will realise that this person is her biggest cheerleader.
Interestingly, your character doesn’t follow the same advice that he doles out. From the trailer, it’s almost evident that your character tends to wallow in self-pity…
I understand what you are saying, and it’s a wonderful observation. Thank you for picking up on that. And that scene is a point of self-realisation and addressing his inadequacies. The dialogue where he talks about knowing the feeling of being a loser, but also hoping to know what winning feels like is that point where he takes stock of his own life. He perceives it as a failed life, and that’s why he is so bitter. Somewhere in between feeling like a failure and hating the world for it, there comes a point where he acknowledges the sad reality. The reality? “I just wasn’t good enough".
That must be a major breakthrough scene for your character…
Yes, while he realises he wasn’t good enough, he also knows that Saiyami’s character is good enough even with one arm… That scene captures a weaker moment in his life, and it’s very special because I do believe that everyone who has failed to achieve at least one dream of theirs that they really, really wanted may come to the realisation that the reason for their failure isn’t external. It’s where you just know that you didn’t work hard enough or you should have done better or maybe you weren’t talented enough. We often suppress that feeling. So Paddy, for the first time, lets his guard down and says: “You know what, I blame the whole world for everything, but I always knew it was me.” He didn’t want her to be in that zone. And since I have navigated my way out of that troubled area, I know how to navigate her out of it. Plus, I have always believed – being a sportsman myself to a certain degree and having followed the ambition of being an actor – that before you succeed greatly, you have to fail greatly, and only if you fail greatly, do you manage to succeed greatly. It’s just the law of nature. As they say, what goes up must come down, and what goes down also comes back up.
So you have treated both those impostors – failure and fame – the same.
You just quoted Rudyard Kipling and one of my favorite poems ‘If’.
In journalism school, there was an inside joke that those who teach are failed journalists. The same stereotype is also attached to sporting coaches. Will ‘Ghoomer’ shatter that stereotype?
Somebody had famously quoted the same about film critics and how they know the road, but just don’t know how to drive.
I can say that about Paddy, and that’s what makes him a great teacher. He knows what it’s like to fail, and he has identified what needs to be done to avoid that.
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‘Ghoomer’ is out in UAE cinemas on August 18.