hinduSpeaking about his role in the 1981 John Huston film ‘Escape To Victory’, at the 2018 Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Pele had said that the best thing about it was that he knew who would win. So did all of us, sat physically-distant in a Sunday morning show of ‘83’, the film that in 161 minutes recreates sporting history that changed the contours of cricket.
“…The way the game is consumed seems to offer all sorts of information about our society and culture,” Nick Hornby wrote in ‘Fever Pitch’. So, for those not old enough to recall how in 16 days, Kapil Dev’s no-hopers went on to shock the world, this was an aural and visual experience of an India and its cricket team they had possibly only heard, read and seen snippets of.
For others, the film was about recreating memories. Of tantrums so that a television set would be bought after it was announced that the semi-finals and final would be telecast. (This was unarguably the biggest sporting moment involving India being beamed live. The men’s hockey final of the 1982 Asian Games could have been that but became a low point in the sport instead.) Of dodgy broadcast quality, antennae that would transmit white noise and need repositioning because it had swung as unpredictably as one from Balwinder Singh Sandhu to Gordon Greenidge, and of power outages. Of fiddling with the radio after school and staring incredulously as it said India were 17/5. Of pleading that bed time is pushed back because Sandeep Patil was giving Bob Willis the treatment. Of darkness, literally and metaphorically, when Vivian Richards was doing his thing in the final. And of that catch.
That’s where ‘83’ opens: the defining moment of Dev’s catch to dismiss Richards, stretched through a slow-motion retelling. Through the campaign that began with a rousing win against two-time defending champions West Indies to the 43-run victory in the final, there were a number of moments: Yashpal Sharma’s 89 in the opener where Roger Binny dismissed Richards, Clive Lloyd and Jeff Dujon; Patil and Mohinder Amarnath settling early wobbles with a 69-run stand against Zimbabwe; Binny and Madal Lal ripping into Australia and getting the campaign back on track and Dev’s world record 175. But who knows whether India would have bossed the sport, on and off the pitch, had that catch not been taken.
For a film on sports to work, it has to look authentic. It is one thing to access archival footage but quite another to reproduce something that happened a mere 37 years with integrity. And it is here that ‘83’ scores. Director Kabir Khan getting the sons of the original cricketers to be in the movie is a coupe: Patil, Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall’s sons play their fathers, Mohinder Amarnath reprises the role of Lala Amarnath, Clive Lloyd’s son plays Joel Garner and Larry Gomes is portrayed by Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s son.
Ranveer Singh’s recreation of Dev, down to the leap just before delivery, hands bent near the chest, is excellent. Singh talking like Dev does is an even better touch. Dhairya Karwa doing Ravi Shastri’s twirling forefinger to celebrate a wicket and Krishnamachari Srikanth (he hadn’t added the extra ‘k’ to his name then), played by Tamil actor Jiiva twitching his nose look believable. Missing though were the India opener twirling the bat or walking away to square-leg muttering to himself.
That this is about a team makes it more difficult than say ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘Saina’. And though the World Cup triumph was India’s 1986 Diego Maradona moment —Dev hauling a team to the title with a little help from his mates —the characters, manager PR Man Singh included, are fleshed out. Barring Sunil Valson and that seems like an opportunity missed because the perspective of the player who did not get a game could have been revealing.
Dev’s pidgin English is overdone and Srikkanth repeating lines from an ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ song to say that he couldn’t understand what the skipper said is stating the obvious. The India-England semi-final helping soothe communal tension and cross-border shelling halting before the final make this a film inspired by true events rather than one that faithfully records a compelling achievement.
But in the age of team change rooms being accessible on OTT platforms and Hindi films bringing to life Mary Kom, Milkha Singh and Paan Singh Tomar, a fictional take on the men’s hockey gold in 1948 finding eyeballs, those on iconic football coach Syed Abdul Rahim and Jhulan Goswami being in the works, ‘83’ is a film that had to be made. If through this pre-teens get interested in the black-and-white days of Indian cricket, of Pataudi, Engineer, Wadekar, Chandrasekhar, if they or others are going to go back to the time of Phadkar or Vinoo Mankad, the film would have worked even if it doesn’t recover its cost.