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Kabir Khan’s 83 seamlessly melds the real with reel

The film illustrates the power of the human spirit and takes us into the heart of a landmark moment

Priyanka Roy  Published 22.12.21, 02:04 AM
A still from the film

A still from the film

A young boy twisting and turning the antenna on the terrace, with his family below letting out a triumphant yelp when the TV screen flashes to life. Salma Sultan, that trademark pink rose fixed in her hair, reading out the evening news. The cricket field being invaded by hundreds of fans, with the players running for cover, when the final boundary hits the rope. 83 is a time-travel capsule. A throwback to that landmark month of June in 1983 when one man’s conviction witnessed his team script a story which is, perhaps even now, the greatest of all underdog sport triumphs.

83 is, on many levels, a staggering film. It’s a film that seamlessly melds the real with the reel, illustrates the power of the human spirit and takes us into the heart of a landmark moment. A moment that is not only etched in the annals of the sport and which changed the course of world cricket, but also became an unbelievable win that united a country that was at that time — very much like it is now — divided by socio-religious schisms.


Many a record was created and broken in that World Cup. Kapil Dev’s historic innings against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells is, till today, described as “one of the greatest knocks in the history of the beautiful game”. But what it actually did was infuse belief into a team — and in a nation — that nothing was impossible. This was a team playing as much for pride, as it was playing to hold that silver trophy in their hands.

At the heart of 83 — and he is, more than once, described as the ‘jigar’ of ’83’s Team India — is a man called Kapil Dev. Bursting into Indian cricket in the ’70s as an all-rounder, Kapil was a true son of the soil whose English may have tottered on more than one occasion, but whose confidence in himself, and his team, didn’t. Take for instance that moment in the film when Kapil (played by Ranveer Singh), accompanied by Team India manager Man Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), in the initial days of their World Cup campaign with no one giving them a chance, are in a press conference with about three-odd journalists in attendance. It’s a moment that also forms an integral part of the film’s trailer. Smiling that half-smile and looking straight ahead, Kapil nonchalantly says in his broken English, “We here to win”. A few seconds of stony silence are followed by the snigger-tinged query, “You mean the World Cup?” Kapil, smile intact but eyes even more steely, quips, “Then what else we here for?” It’s a scene that truly encapsulates both the man and the film.

Over 152 minutes, director Kabir Khan keeps going back to Kapil’s unwavering conviction (Man Singh, played by Pankaj Tripathi in the way only he can, refers to the man as “a freedom fighter” more than once), but makes his compelling story of hope and hopelessness, win and loss, dejection and resurgence, an inspiring tale that quickly envelopes the viewer and makes 83 a truly immersive experience.

We know how it’s going to finally play out. We know how Mohinder ‘Jimmy’ Amarnath will trap Michael Holding leg-before-wicket to script history, much like how we hold our breath, even after umpteen viewings, willing Vidya to look at Kabir in the final moments of Chak De! India or egg on Sanju to kick the gear on his cycle to brace past the finish line in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. It’s the attention to the stories, individual and collective and the humorous and heartwarming personal nuggets in the run-up to that final triumph that make 83 the film that it is.

Year 1983 marked the third World Cup in cricket history. Before that, India had won only one match in a World Cup, and that too against East Africa, as

K. Srikkanth, famously referred to as Cheeka and played with fabulous flamboyance by Jiiva, declared it “wasn’t even a real country”. The naysayers were everywhere, the sniggers were a given. From the babus at the Indian cricket board to even the Air India official at the airport who, barely glancing at the Indian cricketers about to take off for London, nonchalantly asks them to get an autograph from Vivian Richards.

Team West Indies were invincible. The reigning two-time world champions, Clive Lloyd and his men, commanded both respect and awe. The giant-like Joel Garner, Michael Holding, known as “Whispering Death”, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts... all unplayable and driving fear into the hearts of the best batsmen of the time. Viv Richards, alone, could hit all the runs on the scoreboard to guide his team to victory. It was a team both terrific and terrifying.

No one gave India a chance. The team didn’t even merit entry into the historic Lord’s Cricket Ground. The team had no confidence in itself, most of them looking to make a brief stopover in London and play (rather, lose) a few World Cup matches before flying off to the US on holiday. Critics and cynics dismissed them at first glance, the British press was brutal. As Man Singh says to Kapil Dev at a key moment in the film, “Azaadi hum ne jeet li, lekin izzat jeetna abhi baaki hain.” It’s the quest for that “izzat”, that fire within him — and subsequently in his teammates every time an Indian triumph was labelled as “lucky win” or “fluke” — that powered Kapil.

That translates into some of the most enjoyable moments in 83, the pick among them being that extraordinary win against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells. Going out to bat with his team floundering at 17 for 5, Kapil smashed everything that day — from the commentators’ box to the French windows of the pavilion, the beer glasses in the hands of the spectators to the windscreens of the cars parked outside the stadium. But figuratively, he smashed something far more significant. His critics and those who were, till then, making fun of the Indian team. And then, there was no looking back.

Authenticity is the big winner in 83. For almost every mood and moment, every shot and every wicket, Kabir Khan seamlessly merges frames of the real with the reel. Key moments on the field are illustrated and authenticated by real footage. The attention to details is remarkable. You don’t even need a jersey number to identify the West Indian cricketers because they look so similar to their real-life counterparts.

And then, there are the nuggets. From Kapil telling Yashpal Sharma, “Yash, un talwar nikaal”, referring to that famous Mongoose Bat, with which he waltzed into history, the friendly exchanges between Kapil and Jimmy, including washing their own whites to save their per diem pounds.... Srikkanth zeroing in on a south Indian family in the UK so that he could land up and gobble down some dosas, Yashpal’s confusing Punjabi accent, Kapil’s English providing the team its moments of laughter, especially when he goes, “Taste success once, tongue wants more”. Kabir Khan’s triumph lies in successfully tempering gravity with humour, and before long, you find yourself becoming one with the players and the spectators in the stands. With or without Pritam’s Lehra do.

The brown face notwithstanding, Ranveer Singh becomes Kapil Dev in walk and talk, accent and attitude. Kapil Dev’s fearlessness on field and his quiet determination against cynics off it is ably captured by Ranveer. I am not a cricket expert, so I really cannot comment on whether Ranveer aces the batting style and bowling action of the man he plays, but his confidence and conviction comes through effortlessly. Kapil’s tender moments with wife Romi (co-producer Deepika Padukone pops in to support husband Ranveer) will make you smile.

But 83’s biggest win lies in the fact that this truly is an ensemble film. Every actor gets his moment to shine. Saqib Saleem brings heart and grit to Jimmy Amarnath, Jatin Sarna is incredible as Yashpal Sharma, Tahir Raj Bhasin is suitably restrained as Sunil Gavaskar.... Ammy Virk to Harrdy Sandhu, Nishant Dahiya to Dhairya Karwa... they are all picked well, and they all bring in their A-game. Interestingly, Chirag Patil plays the role of his dad Sandeep Patil. The trademark Patil flamboyance is unmistakable.

What’s delightful are the cameos from some key members of Team India of ’83, but we won’t spoil it for you. Kapil Dev himself pops up in a key moment in the stands, and then, of course, in the end, reliving that glorious moment and the night of celebrations that followed. “Uss raat hamare peit khali thhe, lekin dil bhara hua tha,” he reminisces. The run-up to that moment is so beautifully done that by that time your heart, sitting in that dark audi, is already full, your eyes already more than a little misty.

More about the fillm

Director: Kabir Khan

Cast: Ranveer Singh, Pankaj Tripathi, Saqib Saleem, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Jatin Sarna, Jiiva, Harrdy Sandhu, Ammy Virk, Nishant Dahiya, Chirag Patil, Dhairya Karwa, Sahil Khattar, Adinath Kothare, Deepika Padukone, Boman Irani, Neena Gupta

Running time: 152 minutes

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