The opening scene of the film, 83, takes us back to what is arguably the most iconic catch in the history of Indian cricket. Kapil Dev, who ran backwards from the middle of the wicket and made an astonishment to dismiss Vivian Richards from Madan Lal, had changed the 1983 World Cup final.
Back in 1983, the Indian audience had missed out on live action from this catch, thanks to Doordarshan’s usual ‘rukawat ke liye khed hai ‘ obstacle. But through multiple playbacks and video playbacks, it was etched on our collective memories. Ranveer Singh did not have a license to make mistakes. From his running steps to capturing style and technique, his re-creation of the magical moment on celluloid was flawless. If you go to the movie to see Ranveer, you will be disappointed because you get Kapil Dev instead.
Indian sports films, especially cricket, had kept the small grits of the game, its technical aspects, at arm’s length until Sushant Singh Rajput made some course corrections in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. In ’83 ‘, the challenge for director Kabir Khan and his team was greater. Here they were dealing with an entire team, not an individual. For a team as iconic as Class of 83, batting techniques and bowling actions offered almost no cinematic license to change. The hardest part was getting Sunil Gavaskar right, the impeccable attitude and the bat’s equality. Tahir Raj Bhasin, who plays ‘the little master’, is first class.
The film also used to show online sessions, Gavaskar scolded Balwinder Sandhu and asked him to hide his grip while bowling inswingers. The words turned out to be prophetic when Sandhu deceived Gordon Greenidge in the final with an incoming delivery, the West Indian opens his shoulder arms and got cleaned up.
The almost accuracy in the film comes from extensive research, a huge amount of hard work and the honest intention not to let down the World Cup-winning team and the fans. The ’83 ‘team came to Sandhu and kept him throughout the film production period to advise on technical details for all the players. During a recent interaction, the former medium fast bowler talked about how he went on tight ropes, with little margin for error. Sandhu spoke in a lighter tone, but Ranveer was serious when he reaped praise for the former.
“Humare coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu, jihone humko layek banaya (Our coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who made us competent). We were cloth brands, ungli pakadke, daant ke, pyar se hume motivate kiya (holding our fingers and through love and scolding he motivated us), ”the actor had said in an AajTak show. A few days ago, while talking to The Indian Express, Sandhu relived the experience, calling it “amazing.”
Ranveer was immersed in his character and took off his socks. He even stayed in Kapil’s house for 10 days to pick up the World Cup-winning captain’s accent, manners and Nataraja’s shot that flowed over June 18, 1983 at Tunbridge Wells, during Kapil’s excellent 175 not out against Zimbabwe. It was a breathtaking comeback story, from 17/5, and on the heels of back-to-back defeats against the Caribbean and Australia.
Indian cricket changed after 1983. The Anglo-Australian duopoly in the game was broken. A few decades later, Sourav Ganguly took off his jersey and waved it at Lord’s balcony after India carried out a robbery in the NatWest Trophy final. Then, in 2019, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara took office as president of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). As the film correctly showed, the Indian team leader PR Man Singh did not even get the Lord’s accreditation before the start of the World Cup in 1983. Kapil’s Devils had heralded the change. They got then-Wisden editor David Frith to eat his word.
From a critical point of view, the film is pure Bollywood. Some scenes are a little too melodramatic, like the last scene where the director tried to put tension into the drama by delaying Michael Holding’s leg-before decision against Mohinder Amarnath. In fact, Dickie Bird had lifted his finger, even before Amarnath ended his appeal. The training ground talk before India’s first match against the West Indies and the upliftment of the Caribbean fast bowlers, where Krishnamachari Srikkanth (played by Jiiva) commented on “yeh cricket hai ya horror film”, was also unnecessary. India went to the World Cup after playing an entire series in the West Indies and winning an ODI in Berbice. Reggae music played every time Richards went out to bat was a cliché worth avoiding. A grand like ’83 ‘deserved a more uplifting background score.
But ’83 ‘rates high on the motivation quotient and re-experiencing nostalgia. The triumph of 66-1 underdogs was told through effort and honesty.