83 review: Like Kapil’s Devils, Ranveer Singh & co. deliver a classic underdog story for the ages

Director Kabir Khan’s film on India’s maiden cricket World Cup triumph transforms into a larger than life phenomenon bringing hope and sense of unity in tough times, as it did in 1983.

Rating: 4 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

The review begins with an admission. Yours truly is a humble cricket connoisseur, one who witnessed (on TV) India’s limited overs triumphs at the 2007 T2OI World Cup, 2011 ODI World Cup, and 2013 Champions Trophy. Whilst the connoisseur in me rates the feats of the current Indian Test side higher, but that cannot replicate the euphoria of winning a World Cup. Before the millennia success, Indian cricket fans witnessed history way back in 1983 when Kapil’s Devils scripted a remarkable underdog story by winning the 1983 World Cup aka Prudential Cup ’83.

This reviewer was only three-years-old then. Those toddlers and later generations never experienced that historical moment. Honestly, there weren’t too many TV household then. Color TV only arrived in India in 1982 but perhaps most middle/lower class couldn’t even afford to watch it in monochrome. Doordarshan [national broadcaster] only showed live transmission once India reached the semi-finals. As often with DD, it was hardly an uninterrupted transmission. So, most fans were largely hooked onto radio commentary.

Whilst the millennials have savored the feats of Mahendra Sindh Dhoni’s devils, it’s fair to say that many adults and four generations missed out on that historical triumph of 1983. As the Haryanvi Kapil Dev cheekily hums [voiceover] at the end of the CRED [Indian fintech company] TV ad, “Pooch teri mausi se kya hua 83 mein” (Go ask your aunt what happened in 83). We have director Kabir Khan [story, screenplay, dialogue] and his writers – Vasan Bala [screenplay], Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan [story, screenplay], Sumit Arora [dialogue] – playing the mausi and giving us a memorable dramatized account of the historic triumph through their film 83 [2021] .

Much like the historical triumph, 83 [2021] has had its long journey. It was conceived by writer Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan in the early years of the last decade [2010-2020]. Nothing can stop what is destined. Individual desires cannot alter the course of destiny. Whilst it was unfortunate for one, but the cinematic Gods chose Ranveer Singh to play Kapil Dev. Similarly, Kabir Khan was destined to direct this film. The coming together of key players [ producers Reliance Entertainment, Vishnuvardhan Induri, Sajid Nadiadwala, Deepika Padukone, Phantom Films, Sheetal Talwar] perhaps mirrored the team spirit that Kapil Dev and his boys showed during the 1983 World Cup. 162 minutes later, we can safely say that 83 is a team success.

83 begins with a key moment from the final. A hoick by the great West Indies batsman Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards, better known as Viv Richards, hovers long into the air with two Indian fielders vying for the catch. Although you know the outcome but your heart is in your mouth, egging for the great one to take the catch. Director Kabir Khan puts a freeze and we are taken to a time when the journey first started.

The statistics, scorecards have been around for near 40 years, and it will remain forever, but as a viewer you are keen to learn stories behind the off field action. Some 3-4 years ago, this reviewer had bumped into Kabir Khan at author Hussain Zaidi’s book launch. Though excited about 83, I humbly asked him that for a nation that has seen India win two Worlds Cups, and a Champions Trophy in a space of six years, how would one take the current generation and before back to 1983? Khan’s response was simple, any first is always special besides many today have only heard or read about it. More than the scores, Khan looked excited to the tell fascinating stories around that special triumph.

It was no gimmick, but a genuine sign of things to follow. And how right Khan proved to be. 83 throws up many intriguing tales within the big story. Khan and his co-writers build their foundation around the then Indian cricketing ecosystem both on and off the field. They use the pessimism around Indian cricket to build a fine underdog narrative. Here was a team that was berated by everyone, that included their cricket board who booked early return tickets even before the entire team assembled in England. There wasn’t much optimism with only the captain Kapil Dev [Ranveer Singh] having any self belief. Besides Dev, only his mother [played Neena Gupta] hammered down his ears, “beta, jeetke aana” (Son, return victorious). That lone pressure was enough to ignite a self belief in the Haryanvi Hurricane. But for a guy who himself wasn’t a confident speaker, how could he inspire his team that was represented by people from different cultures of the society. Not proficient in English, only complicated the matter further.

The first game is against the two-time defending champions West Indies. Our man takes the plunge. A day before the match, he chooses a bus ride to give his team speech. PR. Man Singh [Pankaj Tripathi] seeks the team’s attention as the skipper has something to say. Dev’s hesitant to start with, and that moment we hear the late S.P. Balasubrahmanyam sing ‘I don’t know what to say’ – [a couplet from the Hum Ban Tum Bane track from the film Ek Duuje Ke Liye [1981]. The team is amused by Dev’s speech one that culminates with the words ek duuje ke liye (for each other) playing in the background.

This was India’s first match in the tournament and no way could Kabir Khan afford to miss the significance of it. That first game is an eternal reminder that the result of the final was no fluke. Khan covers all matches, but more importantly taps into the inspiring moments from these games. Two wins to start with, then a thrashing by Australia, and the vultures were out again. There’s no villain in this story save the largely cocky English media and the odd pessimistic desi scribe Mishra [Rajiv Gupta]. India being underrated was not new, but it’s the manner in which the team was written off before the tournament perhaps smacked of white man’s bigotry.

Someone needed to bell the cat, but that doesn’t come from Dev but the opening batter Krishnamachari Srikkanth [Jiiva]. He proves why he is the joker of the pack. He doesn’t resort to any confrontation, but he uses his wit to poke the cocky British scribe. Srikkanth downplays India’s lone World Cup win before the 1983 World Cup. That was against an East Africa team largely comprising of desi expats. That wasn’t to disrespect East Africa but a subtle way to mock that lone win too. The journalist laughed with all others. That was the moment when the self belief transcended from Dev to his team.

This belief though was under severe threat in the very next game against Zimbabwe, but Dev pulled India out of a dark hole to smash a masterly then record 175 not out off 138 balls. This was a smashing George Headleyesque effort scoring over 65 % of his team score. Ah, this review is perhaps turning into a match report, but this untelevised innings sure deserves a special mention now.

More than a limited overs game, 83 mirrors the ebb and flow of a classic Test match. Going forward, 83 transforms into this larger than life phenomenon one that binds a polarized nation. Maybe, it is here that certain fiction seeps into the screenplay. Most Kabir Khan films border on cross-border conflicts but they all carry a message of unity. Khan’s 83 sees people rise above regional, socio, economic conflict to come together and cheer for team India. Dev exchanging pleasantry with then Pakistan captain Imran Khan, later the rival army agreeing for ceasefire at the border to let Indian soldiers tune into commentary for the final game is exactly the harmony that Khan brings to his films. There was a greater interest in the game post the World Cup, but Kabir Khan uses this triumph to create and celebrate a nation within a fractured nation where cricket becomes the unifying force. Partly melodramatic but it is essential to play to the gallery as well. It is fair to say that 83 is Khan’s most matured directorial.

It is also a bit surprising to see Khan join hands with Vasan Bala, a maverick writer-filmmaker known for his noir. And then there is Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan, the man who conceived the 83 dream. Much like the diversity in the Indian cricket team, this troika does well to roll out a highly engaging, inspiring screenplay. Sumit Arora’s partnership with Khan yields fine dialogues for 83.

We’ve waxed lyrical about Khan and his writers so much that some might feel we’ve ignored the big guy Ranveer Singh. Hey, but Kapil Dev always put his team first.

A gifted all-rounder, Kapil Dev was respected for his calm demeanor, jovial attitude, inimitable style. That open chested bowling action, the run-up begins with Dev holding the ball and moving around his chest, shoulder like a shaving brush. Maybe, that’s the reason he would later go onto endorse a popular shaving cream brand then. His batting was all about grit, fearlessness. The Natraj shot his trade mark which Ranveer Singh exhibited beautifully.

Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev in 83 [2021]

Dev is a calm person whereas Ranveer Singh has an electric personality. The latter wonderfully transforms himself into this soft spoken gentle soul. Ranveer aces Dev’s accent, body language. More than looking like Dev, Ranveer does well to bring out the humor and humility of Dev. He seems mellow even in moments of frustration especially whilst giving a run down to few of his erring mates. Dev was no disciplinarian like a Tiger Pataudi. He was happy in letting his players express themselves and take the team along with him. Ranveer Singh shines in bringing that humility, joy and camaraderie within the group.

Kabir Khan is wise in not letting Kapil Dev overpower the screenplay. That works to Singh’s advantage, too, enabling him to strike the right balance between words and action. We found Ranveer more as himself in the pep talk with Balvinder Singh Sandhu [Ammy Virk]. Just like Kapil Dev, Singh is the glue that binds the 83 team. Singh doles out another compelling show only elevating his status as a versatile actor.

Singh’s colleagues back him with an equally compelling show. Jiiva effortlessly fits into the shoes of Kris Srikkanth. Jatin Sarna is flawless as the late Yashpal Sharma. Singer Ammy Virk is the surprise packet here chipping in with a sweet and sincere show as Balvinder Singh Sandhu. It’s impossible to do justice to every cricketer in a film about a team victory. Nevertheless, Khan manages his resources well, giving the right footage to every member from the team as merited.

A lot of the actors bear uncanny resemblance to their characters. Well, why wouldn’t they as some of them are kins of legendary cricketers. Sandeep Patil’s son Chirag pays a fitting tribute to his father. Ditto for Carl and Mali, who play the legendary Gordon Greenidge and the late Malcolm Marshall, respectively. There’s one odd pairing here as Jason, son of then West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, playing the tall fearsome bowler Joel Garner. We liked Mali’s show and the guy who played the role of Viv Richards. Whilst the West Indies are shown as intimidating opposition, but Khan does well to not paint them as the villains in this story. The Caribbean giants played hard on the field, but off it they were the finest gentleman The Caribbean fans, too, get their share of limelight here.

Mohinder Amarnath better known as Jimmy Amarnath used 83 to play his legendary dad Lala Amarnath, the hard taskmaster. Amarnath and Kapil Dev’s odd appearance is all part of the entertainment package.

Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in 83 [2021]

The film also celebrates unsung heroes like team manager PR Man Singh with Pankaj Tripathi doing full justice to the role. Then there are the WAGS [wives and girl friends] who provide the vital moral support to their spouse/partner, and also add to the emotional content of the film. Deepika Padukone didn’t need any motivation to play Romi Dev, After all, she is paired with her real husband Ranveer Singh. No surprise that casting director Mukesh Chhabra is at the forefront of another ensemble cast.

Strong in its writing, 83 also scores well on the technical front too. The background score creates the right impact for a scene. Pritam’s music is fine too with the nation getting an inspiring lyrical version to the popular Jeetega bhai jeetega, India jeetega [India will win] chants. Nicely shot and its neat production design give a sense of the old world charm of England and its then cricketing atmosphere. Though no longer acceptable, but the fans thronging to the English grounds after a game was over was a common feature then.

The beauty of 83 is the larger team spirit that involves other non playing players – wives, partners, former India keeper Farokh Engineer [Boman Irani], and above all the biggest stakeholder in any game i.e fans. From the diaspora to the millions back home, the Prudential Cup united the nation for a while. It lifted sagging spirits, instilling a sense of belief among Indians both back home and abroad.

83 is a fine dramatized version of the historic triumph. Watching Ranveer Singh lift that trophy triggered the nostalgia of seeing Kapil Dev and his devils creating history. But the lasting image from 83 is that of the little boy [Advait Shukla] cheering India all along when his father gave team India no chance. Yes, trophies are important, but a true sportsman’s legacy is defined as to how s/he inspires a generation. Kapil devil’s inspired the Tendulkars, Srinaths, Dravids. Ranveer Singh, Kabir Khan and co. have delivered a classic underdog story for the ages.

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