We just tasted blood and we love it.
A cricket fanatic will devour Ranveer Singh’s sporting biopic ‘83’ chronicling India’s monumental 1983 World Cup win with relish and childlike delight, while a cricket agnostic like me will watch this film with a mixture of fascination, indulgence and occasional fidgetiness.
And that’s a masterful stroke by director Kabir Khan, who has brought to life one of India’s biggest sporting glories to life with a deft hand. He breaks down the real-life uplifting episode in a way that strikes gold with both cricket-mad Indians and the minuscule minority who don’t particularly care for the game.
But make no doubt that this vanilla film, culled from the real-life accounts of an underdog team led by captain Kapil Dev — an on-point Singh — demolishing a Goliath team like the West Indies, is entertaining but it’s also subtly manipulative. However, you won’t hear anyone complain.
Singh as the eternally optimistic captain Dev is endearing, but it’s his band of boys — made up of perfectly cast actors like Jiiva as K Srikkanth and Tahir Raj Bhasin as Sunil Gavaskar — that add heft and gravitas to this thoroughly enjoyable feature. Like any sporting biopic worth its salt, it’s a classic underdog tale riddled with conflict, challenges, redemption and jubilation. And Singh and his boys march to those beats with absolute conviction.
Singh, who’s usually flamboyant with a dressing sense that would put Liberace’s wardrobe to shame, is restrained in his role as the much-revered captain who anchors and shepherds his motley crew. The cricketing world has written them off even before they stepped onto the pitch, but these guys won’t go down without a valiant fight.
It’s not just the physicality of the players — who bear close resemblance to the actual champions — that stands out. For instance, apart from his dentures and hairstyle mimicking Dev’s actual persona, Singh seems to have imbibed his spirit and grit.
Singh, the star, is nowhere to be found as he treats us to an immersive experience of a leader whose English grammar is faulty ground, but his expertise is on rock-solid turf. Actor Jiiva as the sprightly South Indian batsman K Srikkanth and actor Saqib Saleem as batsman Mohinder Amarnath breathe life into their characters without reducing them into caricatures. The odds were clearly stacked against them, but they manage to thrive and their triumphant ending is capitalised neatly by director Khan.
There will be parts in the film that seem to have been deliberately inserted to induce tears, but that’s a tiny bump on the road. For instance, the scenes where a small child waves the Indian flag or where an old man in India watches the game with tears streaming down his face may seem forced, but it didn’t ruin the film for any of us. Plus, the boys all seem impossibly jolly or just borderline petty, but they all are good blokes in totality — which is slightly difficult to believe.
Actress Deepika Padukone plays Romi Dev’s part with a quiet dignity, but the climax where the overly emotional wives of cricketers nervously watch their husbands at play was stretching it. Their inclusion in the narrative felt stilted and forced. But the same couldn’t be said about how director Khan wove the political and social realities of the 1980s into the film, which is mostly set on the field. There was plenty of context and not just a bunch of players hitting balls out of the stadium. You were rooting for every Indian player who made history in 1983 by bringing home the coveted World Cup. It was epic back then and this epic on that win bowled us over too.
Director: Kabir Khan
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Pankaj Tripathi, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Jiiva, Saqib Saleem, Jatin Sarna, Chirag Patil, Dinker Sharma, Nishant Dahiya, Harrdy Sandhu, Sahil Khattar, Ammy Virk, Adinath Kothare, Dhairya Karwa, R Badree, Deepika Padukone, Neena Gupta
Stars: 3.5 out of 5