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Saiyami Kher on R. Balki’s Ghoomer: ‘Playing a cricketer on the big screen is the ultimate dream’

This interview was first published in The Telegraph Online by the same author.


Saiyami Kher’s love for cricket goes hand in hand with her passion for cinema — she has wrapped up the shoot for R. Balki’s Ghoomer in which she plays a cricketer with a disability. The Faadu actress talks about balancing her acting career with sports, how sports has helped her and being a Sachin Tendulkar fan.


Cricket and cinema have come together in R. Balki’s Ghoomer. What was your initial response when the film was offered to you?


Saiyami Kher: Ghoomer was offered to me five years ago. R. Balki told me, ‘If I make this film, it will be with you, otherwise I won’t make the film.’ It was like the perfect dream. Sport is my first love and acting is something that I can’t live without. Playing a cricketer on the big screen is the ultimate dream.


And then, of course, the director R. Balki, who is one of the most intelligent minds in the industry. He is extremely passionate about what he does, yet he underplays everything and is so humble. He’s so intelligent that you have to think before your every move. He is a chess player. He knows his next six moves. So, you have to be on the ball when you’re talking to R. Balki. Playing cricket and being directed by him, I couldn’t have asked for more.


Going by the first look, Ghoomer seems like an intense sports drama. As an actor, what did Ghoomer give you and take away from you?


Saiyami Kher: Ghoomer is not just a sports film. Cricket is just its backdrop. Ghoomer is the toughest film I have done so far because emotionally it was extremely demanding. Balki sir used to laugh saying, ‘Why do you have so much sorrow in you?’ The character I play loses her arm. So, there are a lot of hardships that she goes through. I spoke to a lot of para-athletes and their stories were so inspiring. I was truly moved by them.


Every film that you do takes away a part of your heart. I get very attached to the work I do, be it Mirzya or Faadu. I never want the process to end because I have such a good time doing it. But Ghoomer drained me emotionally.


As an actor, how important is the instinct for you while choosing a script? Especially when it is offered to you by the likes of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Anurag Kashyap and R. Balki, which could be difficult to say ‘no’ to.


Saiyami Kher: In Luck By Chance (2009), there was a line, ‘You don’t choose your first film. The film chooses you.’ I was extremely lucky that the first Hindi film that chose me was Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya. Rakeysh sir is like family to me in Bombay. When Gulzar sahab has written the script, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are doing the music, and Rakeysh sir is directing it, I think you just say ‘yes’ to it.


I was a 23-year-old trying to make a mark in the industry, so these names associated with the film made me feel I should do the film. But the film didn’t do well. So, I had to kind of find my foothold in the industry. Work was being offered to me but there was nothing that really excited me.


Anurag (Kashyap) offered me Choked a year or a year and a half after Mirzya released. He said that I would have to put on weight to play the mother in the film. I didn’t know who was directing it. I said yes because I loved the script. Later on, when I asked Anurag who was directing it, he casually said, ‘I am directing it’.


I did a couple of films with new directors which were totally based on what I read on paper and liked it. You can’t know how it will translate on screen. But if I like what I read and think that the makers are a nice bunch of people… that’s how I like to do a film. I don’t like to go on a set and be miserable about not being happy with the atmosphere on set and not liking the people I’m working with.


Even Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Faadu, I did it because I loved the script written by Saumya Joshi. I am very instinctive when it comes to a script. I will agree to do a film if I like the script even if there are no big names attached to it.


You made your debut in 2015 with the Telugu-language film Rey. But it was in 2020 when things changed for you with multiple releases. How difficult were those five years?


Saiyami Kher: My debut was Rey. But I had already started shooting for Mirzya before Rey was released. The process of Mirzya took two years because Rakeysh sir really likes to cook his food. That’s the way he works. I was auditioning for six months for Mirzya. In November 2014, I auditioned for it on Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement day. We started shooting in November 2015. Mirzya was released in 2016.


2017 to 2020 were tough years. After my debut, things didn’t pan out the way I expected. Anurag offered Choked to me but he didn’t make it right away. There were a lot of ups and downs. But I put my anxieties into running. I ran two full marathons.


Has sports helped you in your acting career in any way?


Saiyami Kher: Sports has helped me not just in my acting career but in life in general. Acting, career-wise, inculcates certain disciplines with regard to following a regime. Because I have played sports, I don’t have any problems when we have long shoots or tough conditions. Sports helps with a regimented life in the physical aspect.


But how it has helped me the most in life is by teaching me to deal with failure and that’s very necessary when you’re an actor. Because 99 per cent of the time you’re rejected. So, just chin up and say that you’ll come back stronger.


Anyone working in the entertainment industry should play or at least watch team sports. It can kill that self-centred attitude. Filmmaking is teamwork, right?


Saiyami Kher: It’s a very good point. When I posted the poster of my film 8 AM Metro, I wrote ‘Captained by R. Raj’. An actor is just a part of a team. The real star is the director. He has the strings to all the puppets. It is a team sport. If you don’t know how to be part of a team, you’ll never be able to work here.


You are a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. What is your favourite Sachin memory?


Saiyami Kher: It will take another four hours to talk about Sachin. But at the top of my head, it’s the innings he played against Pakistan at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup. That’s my favourite innings of Sachin. So, that’s on-field memory.


My favourite personal memory of Sachin is when he watched my film Choked (2020) and posted on Instagram, saying something like ‘A girl who can bat on the field as well as off the field’. I couldn’t stop smiling for three days.


When I was a kid, whenever my parents used to ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I used to say ‘I want to meet Sachin’. My parents used to be a little worried but that’s how obsessed I was with Sachin Tendulkar. I feel like I have fulfilled my childhood dream.


What are some of your favorite sports films/series/documentaries?


Saiyami Kher: I don’t think anyone can top The Last Dance (2020). It’s one of the finest documentaries made on sports. I can watch Million Dollar Baby (2005) a million times. I really liked Mukkabaaz (2017) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013). I am a big Roger Federer fan, so I also liked Strokes of Genius (2018).


How many times have you watched Sachin: A Billion Dreams?


Saiyami Kher: I watched it four times in the theatre. The producer Ravi Bhagchandka is a good friend of mine, so I have the film with me all the time. I have followed Sachin’s life so much that I already knew everything in the film.


How do you keep yourself aspirational amidst overexposure because of social media?


Saiyami Kher: My PR tells me to be out there, but I am not like that at all. When I am not working, I go to Nashik to visit my parents. I live a very low-profile life. If I am not in Nashik, I am probably on a trek or deep-sea diving somewhere.


There are dos and don’ts of being in the Hindi film industry. I have not followed the dos too much and I am pretty happy with that because I don’t want to lose the person that I am. I like to do things that keep me happy. If diving makes me happier than going to a big filmi event, I’ll go diving.

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