“Keep your tissues handy ... the tears will flow,” warns Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh.
It was impossible to read his eyes as he had golden sunglasses perched on his nose, but the flamboyant actor — who had worn a glittering turtle neck pullover and mustard velvet pants with shiny boots for a press junket in Dubai last week — sounded impossibly earnest.
“I was moved to tears by the reactions of the people who were moved to tears by what they saw and experienced in the film. It was a magical atmosphere inside that hall … And that kind of scene will repeat itself during every screening,” said Singh, exuding a childlike, infectious enthusiasm.
He was talking about how his latest sporting biopic ‘‘83’, directed by Kabir Khan and starring top actress Deepika Padukone (who’s married to Singh), was met with a standing ovation at the closing ceremony of the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on December 15.
“We were so overwhelmed … so, so overwhelmed,” said Singh glancing at his partners-in-crime Khan and Padukone, who were on the same sofa at a plush suite overlooking the Burj Khalifa.
After their stint in Saudi Arabia for the film’s world premiere, the talented trio jetted down to Dubai to talk up their much-anticipated sporting drama and showcase the highlights on the Burj Khalifa later that evening.
‘‘83’ is based on the true story of how India’s charismatic cricketing icon Kapil Dev (played by Singh) led his underdog team to its first World Cup victory in 1983 at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London against the formidable West Indies team.
“This movie is about the triumph of the human spirit … The backdrop is a sport like cricket, but it’s an incredible underdog story and charts the journey of these incredible people who had faith and fun along the way to victory … The movie captures it all so beautifully,” said Padukone.
The actress and co-producer of the film plays Kapil Dev’s wife Romi Dev, who has always been the captain’s stoic wind beneath his wings. Padukone claims she is taking one for the women’s team around the world. Just like how her mother Ujjala Padukone quietly supported her badminton world champion father Prakash Padukone, her latest role is a nod to all those women who are happy to be in the shadows as their better halves shine on a global stage.
“When the trailer came out, so many women, kids and people who may not necessarily understand the game of cricket said they had goose-bumps. And that really summarises what this whole film experience is going to be ... I have seen my mother play the same role in my father’s life as the way Romi Dev has played in Kapil Dev’s life … Sports was an integral part of my life,” said Padukone.
This high-profile actress and self-made star claims she didn’t accept the relatively brief role because her husband played the most crucial part.
“My decision was completely independent of him being a part of this film. I was just blown away what I heard. I’ll never forget the part where I was sitting in my living room and he [Kabir Khan] came and gave me this narration and it was the best narration as I could visualise every beat … And Romi Dev is such an incredible woman. Whatever time I got to spend with her and from her anecdotes I heard, I knew she plays such a silent, but important role in his journey,” said Padukone.
Its crew vouches that ‘‘83’, produced by Reliance Entertainment, Phantom Films and Kabir Khan Films, is a moving human drama that isn’t limited to the iconic captain’s knock. Even if you are not a fan of cricket, you will still enjoy the film claims director Khan.
“You don’t need to be a cricketing buff at all. And that was something that was very clear that I had in mind while making this film. There’s no way that I can make a film just for cricketing buffs even though there are millions in our country [India]. But you can’t just make a film for cricket’s sake. It has to be a human story so that everyone can relate to it,” said Khan.
Cricket and Bollywood are sacrosanct for most Indians. And the ‘‘83’ team was acutely aware that they were rolling out a film that would be watched by a robust demographic who ‘eats, breathes, and sleeps cricket’.
“All those cricket lovers in India will look at me with a magnifying glass — whether it’s my batting stance, the batting style, the stroke play or the power with which I hit the ball,” said Singh. “We love our cricket so much and many of us cricket nuts. It’s like a religion in our country and culture and my director is a stickler for details. We knew we had to be precise and spot on.”
Singh remembers how he told his bowling coach and real-life cricketer Balwinder Singh Sandhu about how he wasn’t able to crack Dev’s bowling technique despite practicing for four hours each day over four months.
“Everyone’s body mechanics are unique and mine is unique to me, while Kapil sir’s is unique to him … He’s got these long limbs and the way they work is idiosyncratic to him … I had to stop bowling and change my body mechanics to get it right,” said Singh. He remembers how his coach had observed that he came into the cricket field like a ‘pehalwaan’ (wrestler) and that just didn’t cut it. Singh had to unlearn before learning his character’s bowling body language.
“After that, I had a bowling breakthrough of sorts and I made some headway … And the best part about Kabir sir is that he is a man who pays attention to every detail and nuance. Until something is spot on and precise, he won’t go through with it. I am a cricket nut myself and I appreciated him so much. I am proud of my director and the film,” said Singh.
This bankable actor, who has delivered a healthy number of blockbusters in his prolific and sturdy career like ‘Bajirao Mastani’, ‘Padmaavat’ and ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela’, has a point.
Khan, whose credits include ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘New York’, is one of those rare talents in Bollywood who makes commercial cinema in an intelligent and sensible manner. He takes on sticky topics like terrorism and race relations and deals with in a deft manner. But biopics in Bollywood should always be taken with a pinch of salt. They are notoriously sugar-coated and gloss over unsavoury bits of their subject’s life. So was ’83, which has openly gained the support of Kapil Dev, his spouse, and his winning team, a sanctioned biopic?
“Calling ‘‘83’ a sanctioned biopic would definitely be an incorrect way to define this film. I will just tell you one simple fact which will explain everything: ‘The team has still not seen the film. That’s how secure they are. They have stayed away from entering or intruding into the creative space. Three years ago, they told us that they want to see how we bring their stories alive to the rest of the world. If it was a commissioned piece, they would have seen it two months ago and have opinions on it,” said Khan.
His actors — Padukone and Singh — also jumped to their director’s defence and let us in on a secret. Their labour of love touches upon the frailties and vulnerabilities of its iconic players that formed the 1983 winning squad.
For instance, its principal player Dev was famously accused and exonerated of match-fixing allegations in the latter part of his career. The stupendously revered sportsman also broke down in tears on national television during an interview with journalist Karan Thapar when asked about that blip that could possibly taint his legacy.
“Yeah, that’s what makes him a complete person, you know. As Alpha as he is as a captain, as a cricketer, as a sportsman … we have been able to weave that in and showcase that side of him as well. Without saying too much, I will tell you that you will see that side of the man as well quite beautifully … Mark my words, it will be special,” said Singh.
Don’t miss it!
‘‘83’ is out in the UAE cinemas on December 23
Did you know?
The team of ‘‘83’ has organised a star-studded screening back home in Mumbai, Bollywood’s epicentre, along with the real-life cricketing champions who created sporting history in 1983.