Ghoomer is a very popular Rajasthani folk dance. It is characterised by colourful ghagras worn by the female dancers who spin circles on the floor with grace, often called ‘chakkars’ in local lingo. The title ‘Ghoomer’ functions as a metaphor for the radically dramatic ‘circles’ defining the narrative in the character-centric film directed by R. Balki.

Balki is not a very consistent director in terms of his treatment and execution of his films, some of which are truly great while some are not. But the common element that binds his direction and films is their unique choice of subject. Two good examples are ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Paa’. This uniqueness of the subject and its treatment makes ‘Ghoomer’ stand out. Balki’s ‘Padman’ and ‘Chup: Revenge of the Artist’ were below par.

‘Ghoomer’ is the sad story of two big failures, who became so because destiny played strange tricks with their lives, and not due to lack of enterprise, determination or industry on their part. How these two ‘failures’ come together despite the contrast in their personalities, age, gender and back stories to make their lives better is what ‘Ghoomer’ is all about. The film is driven by all the characters, and the narrative emerges out of their back stories, their present and their future.

Anina (Saiyami Kher) is on her way to make it to the Indian Women’s Cricket Team to visit the UK to represent India. She is talented, gritty and ready to face the challenge. She is backed by a supportive family consisting of two fat brothers who are always eating, a bubbling-with-enthusiasm-father (Shivendra Singh Dungarpur) and the forever-poring-over-cricket-statistics grandmother (Shabana Azmi) who has the history of cricket on her fingertips.

But as the team is preparing for the final selection, a slightly older man named Padam Singh Sodhi (Abhishek Bachchan) steps into the field and bashes Anina up for her ‘bad’ batting. He follows this up at the after-party following the selection. A fiery and humiliated Anina marches out and while driving away with her childhood boyfriend (Angad Bedi) is involved in a severe car crash. She loses her right arm from the elbow down, destroying her dreams of representing the country in international cricket.

For, who has ever heard of a one-handed cricketer participating in international cricket? Anina finds it difficult to accept the sudden drastic change in her life and breaks down repeatedly, even contemplating suicide. Then Padam Singh Sodhi, better known as Paddy, steps in to ‘help her commit suicide’.

Who is this Paddy? He was a test bowler for India who played in just one test for the country when an accident on the field broke his ribs. He never stepped back into test cricket ever again. He did play some matches but never for the Indian team.

When the film opens, we see him as an alcoholic who lives in a dilapidated home surrounded by a garden-gone-wild. There is a young woman named Rasika, who takes care of him but he treats her rudely. Rasika is a transgender whose sex change surgeries were funded by Paddy and he helped her with the change in her life taking her under his care.

Why then, is he so rude with her? If this character has been added to offer an insight into the soft interior that hides behind Paddy’s hard exterior, it does not succeed. Nor does the lip service paid to the transgender community work well.

The second half of the film is dedicated to Paddy taking the shaky, nervous and unconvinced Anina under his wing, and convincing her that she can use her left hand to become a test-rated bowler in international cricket. Everyone thinks this is a bad joke, including Anina herself but though unwilling and not convinced, places herself under Paddy’s terror-ridden training.

From this point on, the film becomes electrically charged by the torturous training sessions in Paddy’s unkempt garden. It begins with Anina being forced to clean the shrubs, overgrowth, and pathways to make it fit enough for cricket practice with an apology of a ‘pitch’, and ends with her practising bowling with her left hand.

We do not realise most of the tricks Paddy designs for Anina’s rigorous training such as spreading cow dung across the grounds, making Anina practise her bowling skirting these and so on. It offers us an insight into how difficult the game of cricket is, and how next-to-impossible it is for a girl with a handicap to represent the country in test cricket.

The film would never have achieved half of what it has become had it not been enriched and enlivened by the magnificent performances of Saiyami Kher as Anina and Abhishek Bachchan as Paddy. You begin to feel one with their pain after a point of time, and empathise with them because you are as uncertain as they are about what the final results will reveal.

Anina is forced to switch over from batting which was her forte to bowling, because she has lost one arm. Her entire life has the solid support of her loving and adorable boyfriend who she throws out once in anger for being ‘sympathetic’ to her condition. But he comes back soon and waits outside the gate till she calls him in.

Her family is also always but always behind her in her grief, her loss, her sorrow and her training but none of this is marred by pity or sympathy. Shabana Azmi as the grandmother restrains her emotions as much as she can in a mellow role suited to her mellow years. Shivendra as the father throws up a delightful performance though he is not a professional actor.

The outstanding cinematography (Vishal Sinha) specially in Paddy’s unkempt garden with the rays of the sun filtering through the branches of the trees juxtaposed against the brightness of the open and wide cricket field covered in long shots cutting to close-ups of Paddy’s concerned and worried expression as he downs one drink after another, enriches the tapestry of the film’s broad canvas. There is a lovely touch of Anina’s father buying every single newspaper the day after his daughter’s selection for the UK bound Indian team. He even asks the newspaper boy to deliver a bunch to neighbours! Angad Bedi offers the best support any young girl like Anina could dream of. After the terribly negative role in ‘Pink’, he is a pleasure to watch. Angad Bedi’s father Bishen Singh Bedi dubbed in the film as “the best bowler in the world” makes a brief appearance towards the end.

Though Paddy’s desperate attempts to attain vicarious fulfilment through his disciple Anina’s triumph in getting back to the test team is clearly established, it does not quite explain his addiction to the bottle. Nor does it change his nature filled with dark moods and caustic comments.

In fact, in the initial months of training, he watches the girl from his window, drink in hand and comes out only when she is halfway through. His dialogues are filled with dry sarcasm and though this puts off Anina to begin with, she teaches herself to get used to it as she too, is as determined as Paddy, to prove that even with one hand, she can still make it. And make it, she does, and how!

On the test field we finally get the meaning of the title ‘Ghoomer’, referring to the way in which Anina balances the lack of one hand by using the left hand to bowl round the wicket in a unique circle, so fast that you hardly see her spinning the circles, leading to the loss of batswomen in the England team.

The cutting back and forth to different groups of viewers while the match is on, including a group of avid watchers seated on wheel chairs adds to the small entertainment value. Thankfully, neither is there any team jealousy among the girls, nor do we see a single moment of self-pity in Anina.

Amitabh Bachchan stepping in as “the first ever commentator” in test cricket adds the kind of glamour the film could well have done without, as it is a role any good actor could have stepped into. I personally feel that his presence in most films where his son plays a lead role somehow chips away from Abhishek Bachchan’s performance. This is really sad.

The songs on the soundtrack are fine but the film could have done without them. We realise much later through the film that another kind of ‘test match’ is being played out on screen between Saiyami Kher and Abhishek Bachchan, who appears to be wearing a partly tanned wig, about who will breast the tape of the more challenging role between them.

One must concede that the winner’s shield goes to the understated and underutilised performer Abhishek Bachchan. Considering that Saiyami is relatively a greenhorn by comparison, her convincing role, first with both hands and then with a single arm, must be seen to be believed.

One, however, fails to understand how Paddy’s discovery of the sacred thread that comes off Anina’s wrist from the car after the crash remains with him. He, alongwith Anina, has no faith in blind superstition. But is it guilt that drives him to coach Anina back into the field? Or does he truly believe that she has it in her to win, come what may?

‘Ghoomer’ is not, repeat, not a sports film. Nor is it a fictional biography of a woman cricketer who has lost an arm. It is the story of human grit and determination to rise above challenges that seem insurmountable to begin with but can be overcome if one works hard enough.

If you have not watched the film yet, please rush and watch it. In this film, it may have been cricket, in real life, it could be any human effort made challenging by destiny.