Kabir Khan’s sports biopic not only captures the emotional heft of the success story of the underdogs, but also delivers a well-researched document in the popular idiom
What new legend could director Kabir Khan add to India’s improbable, yet well-deserved victory at the 1983 Cricket World Cup? The question was ringing in many of our minds, when he announced the film about the dramatic journey of Kapil’s Devils in the English summer.
Many feared if an event that happened in the distant past could be fictionalised for the present generation. The discerning even feel that a documentary could have been a better choice to depict one of India’s biggest triumphs in team sports; many would not like to contaminate their cherished memories of watching the World Cup on a black-and-white television set, with a fictionalised account projected in 4K.
However, Kabir, putting his unique background in making authentic documentaries and big blockbusters to good use, has delivered a rousing docu-drama that does to naysayers what a bunch of poorly-paid, little-known cricketers did to journalist David Frith: make them eat their words.
83 not only captures the emotional heft of the success story of the underdogs, but also delivers a well-researched document in the popular idiom. It comes through early in the film when Kabir tells us a sweet story behind the team photograph, blending the real with the picturised one. The behind-the-scenes segments, the dressing room chats, and, of course, the recreation of Kapil’s devastating innings in the crucial India-Zimbabwe match (which wasn’t covered by the BBC), makes for a riveting big-screen experience.
But, ultimately, it is Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev that makes a fanboy’s flourish feel like a lived experience. He almost becomes Kapil Dev for two-and-a-half hours, and is the throbbing heart of this carnival of a film. It is not just about the disarming toothy grin, the body language, prosthetics, and the hairdo, Ranveer also embodies Kapil’s never-say-die spirit and doesn’t allow himself to become a caricature. The Haryana Hurricane’s English might not have verbs, but the man is all action. Perhaps, the missing apostrophe before the title is a metaphor for the throbbing narrative and the personality of ‘Kapsi’; all heart, no malice.
Be it Kapil’s relationship with Sunil Gavaskar (Tahir Bhasin) or the debonair ways of Sandeep Patil (Chirag Patil) or, for that matter, Mohinder Amarnath (Saqib Salim) living under the shadow of his illustrious father Lala Amarnath, the storyline is interspersed with important facts, trivia, little-known curios. More importantly, Kabir and co-writers Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan and Vasan Bala have put them in context. The cricket action, shot by Aseem Mishra, doesn’t look fabricated and the sound of reggae — every time Richards takes the guard — adds to the atmospherics.
Beneath the light-hearted exterior, a layer of the narrative provides an incisive commentary on the times and what the victory meant for the country. We can’t forget that 1983 was also the year when the Nellie massacre happened. Kabir not only tracks what was happening on the grassy pitches of England, but also gives us a sense of the sticky socio-economic wicket India was grappling with in the 1980s when cricket emerged as a unifying force.
And yes, even Pakistan makes it to the story. No, not the players, who made it to the semi-finals, but the army for the nuisance that it created during the matches. Be it Ek Tha Tiger or Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Kabir loves to stir up nationalist sentiments. They could be simplistic at times, buthe seldom forays into the jingoistic territory.Here he pushes Muslims in skull caps waving the Tricolor in multiple frames.
Apart from Ranveer, Jiiva gets the swashbuckling soul of Krish Srikkanth almost right, but Pankaj Tripathi as the team manager seems a little too eager to uncork the tear ducts of the audience. Casting Mohinder and Mali Marshall in the roles of their celebrated fathers comes as a pleasant surprise, and so does Deepika Padukone’s turn as the stylish Romi Dev. But some of the choices are baffling; Hardy Sandhu could not get the body language of Madan Lal right, and Vivian Richards (Jacques Taylor) has been reduced to just a gum-chewing bloke. One also can’t become Clive Lloyd by merely wearing spectacles! The hairdos of some of the West Indian fast bowlers are ridiculous. The film demanded a rousing music score, but Pritam fails to live up to the expectations. The English and Hindi cricket commentary could have been checked for grammar.
These are small quibbles in a film that makes us laugh, sob, and consistently manages to recreate moments that give us goosebumps even four decades after the historic victory. A fantastic way to bring an end to a difficult year.