POWERFUL roles in recent years have really shown audiences how much of a great and versatile performer Abhishek Bachchan is. He continues that run of taking on challenging characters with this week’s big Bollywood release Ghoomer.
The popular star teams up with actress Saiyami Kher for an uplifting sports drama about a bad mannered coach, who finally finds redemption after training a young woman, who has lost an arm in an accident, to cricketing glory. This is the second time he has teamed up with ace director R Balki after multi-award-winning film Paa (2009) and thoroughly enjoyed working on one of the most unique films ever made in commercial Hindi cinema.
Eastern Eye caught up with the actor to discuss Ghoomer, his intense role in the film, acting and inspirations. He also spoke about his favourite football team Chelsea.
It seems like you are really searching for those performance driven projects right now…
That was always the intention. I think the quest is always to do interesting work and something new, to try and push the boundaries of what you’ve done before. I’m really happy I can say in this second innings of mine, I’m getting work that’s really inspiring me. So, I’m not going to complain. But at the end of the day, it’s still about not going after a particular genre, and doing work that is interesting and inspiring.
The amazing performances in your recent projects have received great acclaim. How does that making you feel?
It’s such a wonderful time to be an actor, in terms of opportunities, but more than that, the kind of acceptability they have, thanks to digital streaming sites opening up the world to audiences. The horizons have just broadened. Audiences are accepting a lot of different kinds of content. That gives us actors an opportunity to do work we might not have had the chance to do before. So, I think it’s a very lucky time to be an employed actor.
Is it fair to say that Ghoomer is one of the most unique films you’ve ever done?
I’ve known you for 20 years now, Asjad. I’ve always tried to do something unique and new. The fact that after 23 years, I’m still being asked that question, I look upon that as a good thing. That means you’re still trying to make that difference and can push those boundaries. But yes, I’ve always tried to do something unique. And when you’re working with Balki, you know he’s gonna give you exactly that.
He gave you that uniqueness in brilliant 2009 film Paa. What are your memories of that?
I still remember his pitch to me. He said, I want you to play your pa’s pa. I was like, how’s that going to be possible? Okay, maybe a flashback or flash forward? He said, No, no, no, I want you to play your age and play your father’s father. I’m like, Balki, are you mad? How are we going to do this? And then he explained to me what his concept was. I knew very early on (that it was a special film). So, you know Balki’s always gonna come up with a very unique perspective on a theme.
Tell us about Ghoomer?
He told me the idea of Ghoomer before even writing it and it immediately caught my fancy. It’s the story of a brilliant young up and coming batter, who is about to represent India on the international stage of cricket. She tragically loses her arm in an accident. And when she’s at the depths of her lows, in walks my character, who’s known as Paddy and is an ex-India cricketer, who is now over the hill, bitter, drunk, acerbic, insensitive, brash, badly mannered and the most unlikely, inspirational person that you can even think of.
Tell us more about your character?
I mean, he just breaks the mould and template of what a good coach should be. When he comes in, he sees something in this girl and inspires her. He trains and coaches her to achieve her dream of playing for India internationally. What I loved about it is just how complex this character is. He’s cynical, brash and insensitive to her. He comes across as just badly mannered. But how do you go about portraying such a character and eventually justify why he is the way he is? There’s a huge amount of conflict in that.
But how do you play an unlikeable individual who is still able to make a positive difference?
August 18, my friend. You will find out on (Friday) August 18, at a cinema near you.
Is there one aspect or moment of this film that really connected with you strongly?
Wow, a lot. There are so many great moments. If you look at the film, what comes out is the emotional arc and redemption of Saiyami’s character. It’s also the redemption of my character and how he put his demons to rest by resolving an unfulfilled dream.
Could you tell us about that?
There’s a dialogue in the promo, where he says, “what a loser feels, I know. I also want to know what winners feel”. So, you see the journey of Saiyami’s character and hurdles she has to cross. But equally, it’s this guy’s redemption from being this nasty piece of work. And at the end of the film, I feel we would have achieved what we needed to if you come out saying, I like Paddy, he is a good guy.
How was Saiyami’s performance?
Unbelievable. I’ve not met an actor who’s worked so hard on a film. Emotionally and physically, it must have been searing for her because of what she goes through. I think it really helped that she’s actually a regional level cricketer. Balki was very sure and said, ‘look, we can fake acting, but we can’t fake cricket’. In India, you can’t get away with faking cricket. You need the correct strokes and everything. So, in that sense, she’s just aced it. She’s a revelation in this film.
Do you want to see more films like this in Hindi cinema, where disabled people are seen?
Well, in that sense, it is new and yes. But what’s really interesting is that she doesn’t play for a differently abled cricket team. She plays for the main national squad. So, it’s a very inspirational and uplifting film. I’d love to see something like that. I’ve grown up with a healthy appetite for sports films and love them. The common theme in every great sports film is a triumph of the human spirit and Ghoomer has that. So, if there isn’t a good human story, it is going to be very boring.
Is it true you saw parallels between your character Paddy and the director R Balki?
Yes, there are a lot of parallels that I keep drawing between Balki and Paddy. They both look and come across as very brash. But they have got a heart of gold.
So, did you mould your character’s look on the director?
I moulded my look on him. For me, as an actor, it’s very important to know what my character is going to look like. We weren’t able to get the look and body language right. One day I was talking to Balki and it just hit me like an epiphany. He was reading a scene to me and I’m like, that’s Paddy. So, we got the makeup and hair team together. They were complaining that you’re the only hero where we have to dye your hair white. I don’t have that much white, this is my natural hair. So, it took like two days to get my hair looking white and me looking ragged, because he’s an alcoholic. (Laughs) And I said, here I am, Balki’s mini me.
What inspires you today as an actor?
What inspires me today is anything. You know and that never changes. We’ve discussed this several times before. At the end of the day, I think the greatest criteria any actor, director, or anybody making a film should have is, do I want to see this on the big screen? When you get a script, that should inspire you. The film and story should inspire you.
Ghoomer is a sports film. The football season has started and you are a big Chelsea fan. What are your hopes for the team this season?
It’s exciting times, but I don’t want to overreach. I think you must give (manager) Mauricio Pochettino time. There’s unbelievable talent in the young and raw Chelsea squad. You need to give them time to develop. I think it’s a team in transition and development. I’m hoping for a topfour finish this season. But the next season, 2024-25, is when I think Chelsea is really going to put the foot and metal down.
Why should everyone go and watch Ghoomer?
It’s a very inspirational film that’s really going to touch you. You’ve known me too long and am not somebody who can hard sell my films. But I’m convinced each and every audience member will find something to resonate in the film with their personal lives.