R Balki’s latest outing Ghoomer may not have fared well at the box office but it garnered wide critical acclaim for portraying the emotions and the game of cricket well. In this exclusive interview, we chatted with the film’s sports director Dhruv Panjuani and he shared how fun it was to work with Balki and the lead actor Saiyami Kher, and Abhishek Bachchan. Dhruv has also worked in the new Dulquer Salmaan film, King of Kotha, and Kabir Khan’s 2021 movie sports drama 83. (Also read: Ghoomer review: Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher’s stellar acts will move you)
Saiyami in Ghoomer
Recalling the time he worked with Saiyami and Abhishek in Ghoomer, Dhruv said, “Abhishek is so much fun to be with. That was a really fun project to be a part of and Saiyami was incredible. The first time I saw her (I was impressed). She had been training and devising her own actions. I was just like ‘Wow, this is amazing’ because if the actor is well-versed with the sport and comfortable with it, we get to take things to another level. Kudos to Balki sir for thinking ‘I’m going to do this project with Saiyami because she already plays cricket well’. That helps with the first part of the film a lot. It shows how focused and clear the director is.”
He added that when someone is familiar with the game, as well as the camera, it makes the work easier for him and his team. Dhruv also said that the emotions flowed naturally because of Saiyami’s acquaintance with cricket.
Real crowd for King of Kotha
Dhruv also recalled the time he worked on Dulquer’s latest release, King of Kotha. “It is not a football film, but a gangster film. Nonetheless, it was an absolute craze shooting it. This was one of the rare films which we shot with a real crowd. Usually, VFX and editing are used for the crowds in a stadium.”
While 83 and Ghoomer were shot in empty grounds and stadiums, (crowd and stadium were VFX) but King of Kotha had a real crowd. “It was a night shoot in the middle of nowhere, I had not been to that place and it was a rural and earthy place. With the live crowd, it was a different feel. We managed to take care of the things.”
Talking about the actor, Dhruv added, “Oh my God, he’s amazing. He is so down to earth, very easy to interact with. He put in all his efforts but was also very clear that football is not his game. ‘It does not get to me naturally’, he’d say. So we put in the right sport doubles.” He then went on to explain how sports doubles work in a similar way as action doubles do – they enact the actions on behalf of the actors and the star’s face is later used at the editing table to make it look like he/she did the action in the particular scene.
Dhruv Panjuani’s journey to become sports director
Having studied filmmaking in Boston, Dhruv started out as an assistant director. “I started working as an assistant director. When I took complete charge of one of those, I found out that there’s a vacuum (in content being created around sports). The directors have their vision of the drama and emotions they need, but not so much the game. Soon, I was given charge whenever it was a sports-led project.”
Further, asked to describe how his work fits in the process of filmmaking, Dhruv said, “Depending on the project, I can become part of the conceptualisation stage to the shoot and edit as well. It is my job to understand the needs of the project (at first stage), it is my job to gather and line-up experts available for training purposes. Then it is also my job to get the logistics of setting up the game on the field. I am also the bridge between sportsperson training the actors, and the actors. Most of the directors I have worked with have been open to suggestions on how to merge the drama and the game as well.” He added that eventually, it differs each time because not he does not get onboard all the projects right from the start.
“It is not two separate entities (sports and drama), it is about how beautifully they merge together and you propel the narrative forward. It is just about understanding the director’s vision and then taking it forward in that light. Whether it be fleshing out the games, whether it be just how the intensity would be or what are the moments that we want. For example, I’m working on Madhavan, Nayanthara, and Sidharth’s Tamil film Test right now. Now we jam with the director just to understand how he sees the sports parts playing out and how he sees it merging with the drama. That is at the ideating stage.”
“Next comes storyboarding – to understand how conceptually things would look – the right angles we need and our treatment of it all. For example, Kabir sir (Kabir Khan, 83) was very clear that he wanted the movie and its cricket to look a certain way in the film. We shot it entirely in broadcast style.”
He added, “On the other hand, the movie that I recently completed – Muttiah Muralitharan biopic (titled 800) – that had a different feel and look to it. Balki sir wanted the broadcast style, and focus on special moments. Blue Star was a whole different treatment. They are all based on cricket but each project comes with a different look and feel, differing with the director’s vision.”
Dhruv’s new projects
Dhruv was the sports director on Ghoomer and King of Kotha while he was credited as a sports choreographer in the Muralitharan biopic and 83. He will also be credited as a sports action director in Ashok Selvan’s Blue Star.