Nearly everything we celebrate and rejoice in, about Indian cricket, we owe to Kapil Dev and his team, to the summer of 1983 when the Indian Cricket Team created history at Lords, England. In the final pages of the film, Ranveer Singh’s Kapil Dev remarks to Deepika Padukone’s Romi Dev that it is every cricketers dream to play at Lords. Kapil Dev and his men in white ensured, all those years ago, that no Indian cricketer feels unwanted on that pitch. Kabir Khan’s 83 is an ode to this very victory.
Any other film releasing in the middle of the emergence of a new variant of the novel (still?) Coronavirus would’ve seen empty theatres. But not 83! I walked in into a houseful theatre, with no social distancing. When I checked online, the shows before and after mine were ass full. That’s the magic of Indian cricket, and also the foreground this film set for itself. 1983 is a memorable year for this sport, Kapil Dev even more so. And the fact that Ranveer Singh looked so promising in the previews of the film, one cannot not flock to the theatres. India breathes cricket and film, so mix these two together and it’s going to work because viruses can come and go, the film is important!
And 83 is an important film. Not just in terms of story, but primarily for Ranveer Singh. This is the least “Ranveer-y” he’s been in any of his films. In 83 he gives his best performance, because he’s so absent from the entire film. He unlearns everything he knows about Ranveer, about being a Bombay boy, about being a film star and adapts to Kapil Dev. From his physicality to his accent, everything is so devoid of Singh, and so accepting of Dev that it’s not just my favourite performance of Singh, but one of the finest performances I have seen in recent times. What particularly won my heart about his act was how Singh has made Dev’s broken English his own. So when he mouths dialogues like, “we here to win” you’re not laughing at him, like the English press. You’re only marvelling at the acting capabilities of Ranveer Singh. When, as Kapil Dev, he says that winning two matches is not enough for him, and that he’s here for the World Cup, you believe him. You know he’s going to win it, but you still believe him with all your heart.
I hope Kabir Khan’s film was as ambitious as Kapil Dev’s character and Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of the same. I wish the film wasn’t happy with ‘enough’. But sadly, it is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying 83 is a bad film. It’s not. But it works out more as a documentary than a film. We know what’s going to happen, we know why the 1983 World Cup was so monumental for India. So what are we here for? The experience? Perhaps. And I have to give it to Kabir Khan and his team of writers and editors. They deliver and how, on the experience front. There’s spirit in 83, there’s no denying that. But it’s falls short of script (and screenplay). It’s too simple, and none of the build-ups eventually land. The final wicket that India takes in the final match with West Indies for example. They would’ve shown literally every person in the stadium looking at the umpire and saying that it’s an out before the umpire raises his finger in slow motion. We know it’s an out, so the dramatic effect of the moment of victory reduces by a margin. Just a finger and Saqib Saleem’s victory laugh could’ve done it. There are many moments like this that don’t really land with as many emotions as they promise.
One of the many geniuses of 83 is the editing. Real shots of real players, their photographs replace actors wherever possible. The actors passports, for example, have photographs of the real people they play. Actors group together for photographs, but the final outcome is always real photographs from 1983.
Another thing I loved about the film is that it doesn’t play out as a regular sports film. We don’t have time for back stories, conflicts, personal lives. Khan is very clear about the fact that his film is a film about cricket and the mad devotion our countrymen have for the sport. So he wastes no time. But there’s also a loophole here. Because there’s nothing except cricket, the film lacks conflict. We do see some conflict here and there, but none of it is central to the film. How long can one sit through a film without conflict? How does one write a film without conflict? Was Sunil Gavaskar as happy as Tahir Raj Bhasin (who plays Gavaskar in the film) when Kapil Dev replaced him as the captain of the Indian Cricket Team just before the World Cup? I get that the writers never wanted to show anything but cricket, and that’s why 83 could’ve worked wonders as a documentary. As a film, it suffers.
But where it doesn’t suffer is the acting. You name the actors and you know they’ve done a fabulous job. Apart from Singh, Saqib Saleem is a personal favourite. Even Wamiqa Gabbi makes such a wonderful impact in a minuscule role. Deepika Padukone, who plays Romi Dev, gives a good performance but she can’t seem to let go of her “Deepika Padukone-ness” somehow. I couldn’t unsee Padukone. In fact, I could also see hints of her Naina (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani). I was just waiting for her to say, “kuch waqt do, sab theek ho jaega.” And I think because she doesn’t have much to do here. But her chemistry with Singh is even more sparkling than what we’ve seen in their previous films.
83 tries too hard to give us the experience of what it felt to be an Indian in 1983. And in that process it becomes a film a little above mediocrity. There’s spirit but not script and an awfully tedious soundtrack. 83 has its moments of glory, but they come and go, and for someone like me, who hasn’t watched a single cricket match in 25 years of existence, 83 falls short of a century, even literally.
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