What if a film is a “Highlights” package of a sports series involving India?
What if that sport happened to be Cricket?
What if that series happened to be a World cup which we won famously?
What if that series was not watched on TV by many of us?
We get 83, the film that released on the big screens last weekend.
Directed by Kabir Khan, 83 takes us through a nostalgic ride of India’s first ICC World Cup win.
So what if we all knew the story?
So what if we all knew the climax?
So what if we all knew the characters very well?
So what if we all knew what exactly came next in the screen play?
It was a question of getting to see the drama coming to life in front of us in the big screen and re-living the moments of triumph. Plus of course getting a dekho of the backroom drama.
Kabir Khan is a master story teller. By now we know this. He had to just put together the journey of the Indian team from India till the final at Lords with the associated drama to keep us engaged throughout. Did he succeed?
In my opinion, he managed to.
Those familiar with Indian cricket in the 80’s know that the Indian team did not have a chance in hell to win the World Cup. It was a team of underdogs. The term “Bits and Pieces players” was I guess coined after most players of that Indian team. Yet the team took one match at a time, went about winning the crucial knock out games and eventually the final against the mighty West Indies. But telling this as it is will make the film a documentary. Frankly unlike in Lagaan which had the existential crisis of the natives at the centre of the story, there is no such thing in the real story.
So what does Kabir Khan do? He taps into his “Bhajrangi Bhaijaan” and “Aman Ki Asha” sensibilities, mixes it up with the “White Supremacy” trope that we are familiar, peppers it with the “Underdog syndrome” as in most sports dramas and serves it hot with Nationalism by the side. So we get to see the Prime Minister ordering TV sets to be installed in a riot area as a tactic to halt communal riots, Pakistan temporarily halting shelling during the finals so that the Indian jawans in the border posts can hear the match commentary over the radio, Kapil’s wife played by Deepika in a cameo, walking out midway from the match thinking that we will lose the match and a pregnant lady delivering right when India wins and the child being named after Kapil. Didn’t I say that Kabir Khan is a master story teller?
In other strokes of brilliance, the players and the actors are introduced in the beginning through stamping of their passports, the original scenes are intermittently played on TV screens to remind of the connect to the true story and thankfully West Indies players are not portrayed as some Anti National villains.
In such a biopic, casting is very crucial. Full marks to the creative team for such a fantastic casting of not just the lead players like Kapil Dev but all the others including Team Manager Man Singh played by a superb Pankaj Tripathi. Ranveer Singh as Kapil owns and simply lives the role. Not just in his bowling or batting action which are of course brilliant but even in his body language and dialogue delivery in broken English and Hindi, Ranveer brings a young Kapil right in front of our eyes. The other one who steals the show is of course Jiiva as Krishnamachari Srikkanth.
Technically the film is well made and needs to be watched on the big screen. The crowds, the match atmosphere and the 80’s props have all been re-created very well. The camera work by Aseem Mishra plays a perfect foil to the drama unfolding on the screen and so is the background score.
With all this going for the film, yet I didn’t get the vibes of an All-time Classic in the lines of a Lagaan as being portrayed in the media. The first half of the film is barely watchable with contrived sequences to heighten the drama when there was none. Frankly, the film is saved by the last 30 minutes as it builds up towards the epic final when Kabir Khan brings his commercial cinema insights to play. When we walk out of the cinema, what we remember is only the last few scenes of heightened drama.
The lure of the subject is such that it made me visit a cinema hall for the first time in two years to watch a film. And it didn’t disappoint. 83 is an eminently watchable film but calling it an epic and classic and what not would be an exaggeration in my opinion.