June 25, 1983. I was one year and 363 days old. I had absolutely no clue whether my immediate family had watched the seminal event that was unfolding thousands of miles away at the Lord's cricket ground (in London). As the entire cricketing world doubted the prospects of an Indian win over the mighty West Indies, 11 Indians, led by a man whose self-doubt was as non-existent as his fear, caused the upset of all upsets. India won the world cup. And the nation and the sport were never the same again.
It was only in 1991 that I started following cricket. It is safe to say that in the last thirty years, my fanaticism and love for the sport has only increased in magnitude. More importantly (at least to me), I consider myself a student of the history of Indian cricket. No, I don’t have any academic credentials to show for it. But I have read reams and reams of literature on Indian cricket, its history and its evolution as well as watched every video cassette, DVD and youtube video that I could possibly access. And talking of evolution, the 1983 world cup is, without a doubt, the tournament that marked a significant turning point in Indian cricket history. A nation that had been brought up on Test cricket since the third decade of the century, suddenly woke up to the excitement, the unpredictability, and the instant gratifications of the 50-over version of the game. (That T20 is the flavor du jour of cricket now merits a separate piece!)
One of the chief pleasures – actually, make that two – of watching Kabir Khan’s 83 is the painstaking recreation of the high points of all of India’s games. I said “two” because on the one hand, we have several moments that have been captured in highlights packages over the years. These have been recreated on screen with an astounding attention to detail both on the cricketing front as well as on the casting front. But more importantly, we get to see on screen moments that are not available in the form of highlights. The first group match versus the West Indies, Srikkanth's square drive in the final, and most memorably, Kapil Dev’s 175* at Turnbridge Wells. The production values are stupendous. Anyone familiar with the Lord’s ground (the venue for the final) will know that the stadium has evolved considerably in the past 38 years. Yet we are transported to that era. The grounds where games take place, the buses that the players travel in, the hotels they are put up in, all appear incredibly authentic on screen.
If the production design is a sturdy pillar that holds the film aloft, the superbly cast team of actors are the flying buttresses. If you observe carefully, the actors don’t just mimic the body language and manner of speaking of the real-life cricketers. Instead, they impressively embody the spirit and character of the players. Among the actors with considerable screen time, Ranveer Singh (playing Kapil Dev) and Jiiva (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) don’t just employ tics and impressions to bring their roles to life. They truly internalize the essence of the players, be it Kapil’s fierce determination or Srikkanth’s charming insouciance.
Two other actors who deserve a special shout-out are Tahir Raj Bhasin (Sunil Gavaskar) and Pankaj Tripathi (manager PR Man Singh). Tahir brings to life the buttoned-up, polished Gavaskar. Watch him in the scene where he clarifies that Yashpal Sharma meant, “acidity” when he actually said, “STD!” Tahir does not indulge in any tomfoolery. He just clarifies and gets on with his routine. He is even better in the restaurant scene with the manager. He is smarting from a perceived insult, chooses to not talk about it and acknowledges the manager’s efforts to pacify him. But at the end of the conversation, he politely but firmly makes the point that he will not play the next game. And Pankaj Tripathi is wonderful as the avuncular manager who has to deal with an eclectic bunch of characters and extend support to his captain. His reaction to an airport official asking for Viv Richards’ autograph is priceless.
83 is an ambitious film not just in terms of size and scale (which it certainly is). It also is ambitious in ensuring that despite the minutest of cricketing details being brought forth on screen, that the human angle is not sacrificed. Of course, not every member of the squad gets a fully fleshed character or an arc but there are several little vignettes that give us glimpses into the human side of this team. Sunil Valson realizing, while stretching, that he is not going to be selected for a game, is a fine example of how Kabir Khan and his team of writers imbue the characters with genuine emotion, some positive, others not so, but every one of them unfailingly real.
The surge of genuine emotion that I felt projected onto me from the film is, above all the technical mastery, the reason why this movie is and will be very special to me. What I had read about in books and articles and had watched in highlights and interviews, was crystallized and neatly tied with a bow and presented to me as a 2-hour 40-minute package. This gift of a film served as yet another reminder of why I truly love this sport and the players that inhabit it. Yes, I was only two years old when the events of the film happened in real life. But by the same token, my generation was born several decades after India gained independence. Do we not feel an outpouring of patriotism and love for our country when we read about Mahatma Gandhi? History can be relived vicariously through not only written literature but also art forms like cinema. As a result, it is only natural that as we see a captain hold the world cup trophy aloft on screen, that our own cup of joy brims over.