If bowling was only about muscle, Muhammad Ali would have been the world’s best bowler, coach Paddy tells the cricketer Anina. But Ali was as much about technique as muscle. And surely he preferred boxing to cricket?

Never mind. There are bigger problems with R Balki’s Ghoomer. Such as, why is Anina’s journey of empowerment hijacked by her truculent trainer? Must a coach bully an athlete to get the best results?

Balki’s screenplay squanders a simple enough logline – a promising batswoman on the verge of a spot in the Indian cricket team loses her arm in an accident but overcomes her handicap to become a successful bowler. Anina is a palindrome, it is observed in Ghoomer, but it actually reads as “Paddy”.

He’s a coach from hell who actually means well. He is a boor, a functioning alcoholic, and a dispenser of jokes that only he finds funny. But please don’t rush to judge Paddy (Abhishek Bachchan), who has his own sad-sack tale of disappointment.

He lives with Rasika (Ivanka Das), a trans woman whom he treats like his sister and whose transition he has paid for. Despite insulting Anina (Saiyami Kher) in the worst possible way, he is the first person to leap to her aid after her career is truncated even before it has begun.

After setting up Paddy as the man you love to hate, Ghoomer flips into The Karate Kid territory. From forcing Anina to dig a pitch by herself to cooking her own meals, Paddy’s regimen is unsparing, insensitive and frankly unnecessary. Nagesh Kukunoor’s entertaining film Iqbal (2005) handled the relationship between a deaf-mute bowler and his frequently imbibing coach with greater acuity and feeling.

Ghoomer title track.

Ghoomer presents its tough love approach as comical as well as inspirational. To Anina, who is justly hungry after a rigorous workout, Paddy snarls, “Go ahead and order one right hand!”

As Paddy rampages about, Anina’s family, which includes her cricket-crazy grandmother (Shabana Azmi) and adoring father (Shivendra Singh Dungapur), is reduced to the equivalent of reserve players. Another member of this group is Anina’s boyfriend Jeet (Angad Bedi), who, apart from calling Paddy a “psychopath”, is strictly ornamental.

With Anina as Paddy’s project – as well as the film’s – her personal trajectory is yoked to his and eventually subsumed in his quest for reflected glory. Anina’s comeback is designed as a series of obstacle courses, whose outcome is as predictable as the climax is preposterous. The title, which refers to a bowling technique that Paddy designs for Anina, reduces cricket to a spectacle worthy of the circus.

Undone by a few men and saved by one of them – such is Anina’s fate. In the absence of psychological shading, Saiyami Kher brings physical rigour to her character and, when permitted, a modicum of affecting despair for her situation. Although Paddy’s methods are dubious, Anina’s determination is never in doubt, nor are her achievements.

As the 134-minute movie’s ill-judged hero, Abhishek Bachchan glowers and grimaces his way through a few good lines and many groan-worthy scenes. Shabana Azmi, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur and Angad Bedi are models of rectitude, all things considered.

Ghoomer (2023).