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IFFM 2023 Opening Night: Ghoomer bowls over audiences

The World Premiere of R Balki’s ‘Ghoomer’ was a roaring success, with many stars from the Hindi film industry in attendance.

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In hindsight, sport film Ghoomer turned out to be a great pick for opening night at the ongoing Indian Film Festival of Melbourne IFFM. Women’s sport – and sporty women – were (and continue to be) very much in the national discourse as the Matildas took soccer fever to a high at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and IFFM found a happy coincidence with that spirit. Even if the film in question was about women in cricket, rather than in soccer!

The Opening Night film at IFFM is always keenly awaited, as it sets the tone for the rest of the festival. And this time, the honour went to R Balki’s much-anticipated sports drama Ghoomer, IFFM’s first film on offer screened at Hoyts Docklands on Sat 12 August.

And just as the Matildas script history for Australia, Ghoomer is a story that does similar for its main protagonist.

Inspired by the real-life story of Olympic athlete and Hungarian shooter Károly Takács, who was the first athlete to win two Olympic golds in the 25-metre rapid fire pistol category while needing to use his non-dominant left-hand, because his right-hand was injured in an unfortunate incident.

A world-class shooter, Takács’ dominant right-hand was injured in an army training exercise when a faulty grenade exploded. However, not letting this incident determine or define his life, Takács started to from scratch to train shooting with his left-hand instead, and then went on to win the Hungarian national pistol shooting championship in 1939, before going on to win two Olympic gold medals.

Balki keeps the essence of Takács’ incredible-yet-true story intact in his film, but smartly adapts the background and context of the story to an Indian setting: switching pistol shooting with India’s national obsession cricket, while also flipping the gender of our protagonist, adding an extra hurdle to overcome. She doesn’t just need to prove her worth as an athlete with a physical disability, but also pave the way for female athletes to be taken seriously in a country where women’s cricket is still very much in the shadow of the men’s version.

The film stars Saiyami Kher as Anina, an upcoming batting prodigy whose sporting future comes under a shadow when she loses her dominant right-hand in an unexpected accident. However, she sees a small possibility of playing for India despite her new circumstances when her paths cross with Padam ‘Paddy’ Singh Sodhi (Abhishek Bachchan), a former Indian cricketer who decides to coach her as a means for his own redemption.

The film is carried by Kher and Bachchan, both of whom give standout performances, balancing the emotional undercurrent of the narrative with a deliberate sense of understatedness in their portrayals, such that the triumph of Anina’s story never veers into ‘inspiration porn’ territory, as is the tendency whenever characters with disability are imagined and viewed by able-bodied creatives. This is a tricky tightrope to walk, and Balki and the film’s team must be lauded for walking it with utmost sensitivity and care.

Abhishek Bachchan introducing the film (Source: Hope Productions)

Kher and Bachchan are ably supported by Shabana Azmi, Angad Bedi, Ivanka Das and Shivendra Singh Dungarpur rounding up the main cast, with Amitabh Bachchan in a special appearance.

While introducing the film at the World Premiere Abhishek Bachchan said, “This [film] has been Balki’s dream for a very long time. As a cricket enthusiast, I don’t think you can give more back to the game than what we’ve tried to do in Ghoomer.”

“This film is now yours. It’s a very special day for me and my family. It’s my late grandmother’s birthday, and I think it’s a matter of great blessing that we have our World Premiere on this day. I hope she will be proud of the work that we’ve done.”

Many other members of the cast and crew joined him on stage while he introduced the film including actors Saiyami Kher, Shabana Azmi, Angad Bedi and Australian sports commentator Neroli Meadows, who has a small cameo in the film. Co-writer of Ghoomer Rahul Sengupta was also present.

With the world premiere of Ghoomer IFFM kickstarted a festival of some outstanding films from the the subcontinent.

The standing ovation for the film at its conclusion, can only bode well for the film’s Australian theatrical release on Friday 18 August.

Read More: IFFM 2023: Top ten things to look out for

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