Cast: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Pankaj Tripathi, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Jiiva, Saqib Saleem, Jatin Sarna, Chirag Patil, Dinker Sharma, Nishant Dahiya, Harrdy Sandhu, Sahil Khattar, Ammy Virk, Addinath Kothare, Dhairya Karwa and R Badree
Director: Kabir Khan
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Once upon a time in India, cricket and cinema were the two great national glues. It was 1983. The gentleman's game was just that and the men who played it were part of a time-honoured tradition that placed upon them the responsibility of turning out in their white flannels not to profit but to prosper as sportsmen. No team took that ideal to heart quite as enthusiastically as India, which lifted the 1983 World Cup after having returned win from the first two editions of the limited-overs tournament with a solitary victory (against a cobbled-up East Africa). The dramatic triumph signalled the coming of age of Indian cricket in a manner that nobody, not even the skipper himself or the men who ran the sport in the country, could have imagined.
The perennial underdogs toppled the powerful Calypso men - led by the redoubtable Clive Lloyd and spearheaded by batting powerhouse Viv Richards and a dreaded battery of tearaway fast bowlers - and rewrote the history books.
A film about that stunning victory was waiting to happen but we, not without reason, doubted if Bollywood had the bandwidth to do justice to the sporting watershed. The Indian team of that memorable English summer had made critics - one of them literally - eat their words. Now that Kabir Khan's 83 is here, our critical apprehensions, too, have turned out to be unfounded.
83 is a rousing, pulse-pounding, soul-stirring cinematic saga that is informed with all the emotion, excitement and euphoria that gripped the nation on June 25, 1983 and on all the other match days that preceded a sold-out final that saw India defend a modest 183 against seemingly invincible West Indies and scale a remarkable cricket pinnacle.
A cricket drama would be a washout without the camera and the actors getting the nuances of the game right. While the director of photography Aseem Mishra does a phenomenal job of keeping the action on the field - large parts of 83 unfold in the cricket arena - both real and intimate, the actors do not let the physical and technical challenge of coming across as authentic batsmen and bowlers overawe them.
There can be no denying that 83 is the film it is because of the astounding central performance by Ranveer Singh. In fact, it would be inaccurate to call it a performance. The lead actor lives the part and, like Kapil Dev did, leads from the front. There is no pottering around for him. He grasps the role with unbridled passion and meets its demands head-on.
Just as Kapil's spirit and spunk would have come to naught had his boys not pulled their weight too, the actors around Ranveer - notably Pankaj Tripathi as team manager P.R. Man Singh, Saqib Saleem as Mohinder Amarnath, Jiiva as Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Jatin Sarna as Yashpal Sharma - step up to the plate and play their roles to perfection.
83 is a product of outstanding teamwork. The writers - director Kabir Khan, Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan and Vasan Bala - do not jettison the known Bollywood methods of pumping up the drama and yet steer clear of excess as they recapture the adrenaline rush and the heart-stopping tension that accompanied the incredible deeds of the men who were summarily written off.
The Indians were expected to exit the tournament without troubling any of their opponents or their travel agent who had booked them on a return (or onward in the case of a few players) on a date well before the semi-final. The latter, though never seen or heard, has a key role in 83 as a marker of how the team's prospects were viewed by the cricket board, its World Cup opponents and its supporters alike.
One might feel that a few of the mid-pitch conversations between the players, the flaring tempers and the quaky nerves in the dressing room and the fervour among the crowds in the stadium and in various pockets of India could have been toned down just a touch for the sake of realism. But as 83 orchestrates the high points of the story and the action rises to a crescendo in a profoundly moving climax - everything appears to fall into place.
Despite the fact that we know how it is all going to end, the film has us on tenterhooks thanks to the little emotion-sparking tropes and the minor tweaks and fictional additions (including a communal riot-hit small town that quickly forgets its troubles as India march into the knockout stage of the World Cup and a household with a television set opens its doors to everyone in the neighbourhood) that it taps to great effect. As we watch the 1983 drama from the perspective of our fractious times, we can't help but wonder if cricket still has the same power to unify us.
The conflict that 83 dramatizes is not just on the field of play against teams that were much mightier on paper (and otherwise) but also within the Indian team and in the hearts and minds of the its members. None of them had any belief in themselves to begin with. Srikkanth, at a party thrown by the Indian commissioner to London, admits as much.
The English cricket authorities did not give the team any chance either, withholding Lord's Cricket Ground passes for the Indians until they booked a semi-final slot.
A small aside. Long before the term WAGs made it into the lexicon, the wives of Kapil Dev (Deepika Padukone, one of the producers of the film), Amarnath, Madan Lal (Harrdy Sandhu), Sunny Gavaskar (Tahir Raj Bhasin) and Srikkanth, joined the team halfway through the tournament but girlfriends, as Ravi Shastri (played Dhairya Karwa) learns from the team manager, were not allowed in the team hotel.
This was 1983 after all. Freedom had its limits. Batsmen did not play reverse sweeps or paddle shots; the concept of slog overs had not come into being; and great store was still set by playing with a straight bat even when runs had to be scored at a fair clip. 83 chronicles a significant point of departure in Indian cricket. The Cup came home but, just as importantly, the likes of Kapil Dev and Srikkanth provided intimations of a brand of unorthodox strokeplay that was to alter the game in the years ahead.
Indian cricket was indeed changing and so was the nation. Nothing can rival the thrill of that unforgettable day in 1983 that saw India graduate from being an also-ran to being hailed as a legitimate contender for big cricketing titles. 83 comes pretty close to achieving the impossible. No mean feat that. The film and its principal star go for broke and, as one feeds off the other, the result is an absolute cracker.