Readers Write In #431: ’83’

Posted on December 25, 2021

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(by Voldemort)

In an early scene in 83, we see Kapil Dev (Ranveer Singh) and the Indian team administrator Man Singh giving a press conference (not really, there are only two people from the media). Kapil is asked condescendingly about their plans for the match, which he answers confidently with a smile on the face, in broken, accented English. If you are still not sold out, there is a last question. ‘What would you do while meeting the Queen?’ Kapil replies, ‘get her blessings to win the match.’ I smiled. I can think of few other mainstream Bollywood actors today who can sell corny lines with so much heart. 

If there are two things that all of us Indians – be it the urban folk or those in the hinterlands – love, it’s the movies and cricket, in that order. So when the two come together in the form of a sports film it’s the best of both worlds, the cinematic equivalent of a 14 course meal.

When I first heard a movie was being made on the 1983 World Cup, I groaned. I was growing impatient of these chest-thumping manipulative tales of patriotism. ’83 is that, but not exactly. Underdog whose English is bad? Check. Pankaj Tripathi?  (because we can’t really make any movies without him these days) Check. Lots and lots of reaction shots? Check. The quintessential sports film trajectory of failure to victory to failure to final arousing victory? Check. A background score that gives you cues – whistle here, cry here, etc? Check. But there is more. 83 manipulates you, but in a good way. Kapil Dev gifts a team member whose shoes have torn with new shoes. I expected him to break down  and hug his noble captain with gratitude, shedding a few tears. But what we get is a light-hearted joke. Similarly, all major senti moments are immediately followed by humor. Some laughs work, some fall flat. But there is no denying that there is an infectious energy in the team, everyone takes digs at everyone, they mock their captain, they dance, eat, drink, and learn, among other things, on how to wash your clothes in a bath tub. The film keeps showing us about how sports is a great unifier which admittedly gets a little too much at times, like the instance where the Pakistani jawans say they would hold fire at the LOC for one day, the day of the World Cup finale. But I found that I could overlook them. I enjoyed the film, the beautiful performances by Ranveer Singh (the man sinks his teeth into the role), Pankaj Tripathi, Jiiva (he plays K Srikkanth), Tahir Bhasin (who plays Sunil Gavaskar). The person who plays Vivian Richards is effective too, with the right swagger required for the role.

At one point, when Balwindher Sandhu says his wedding was called off because the bride’s family were skeptical about how much he would earn, being a cricketer, I laughed. In another scene, students of a college collect funds to buy a TV, and people flock to a house that has a TV to watch the match. In the pre-liberalisation India

were you waited for 18 years to get a telephone connection ( I am not sure how real this is) and hurriedly talk in the fear that the line would hang up, when our sports jerseys weren’t fancy and sponsored by Byju’s or DLF or Pepsi, this was a celebration of the everyman. 

All this isn’t to say 83 is a masterpiece. It isn’t. But it need not be. It respects the audience and doesn’t just lazily tap into the nostalgia, given the premise. It has the old fashioned, old world charm that our good masala cinema has. And that, is enough. When all the Indian onlookers run onto the field after the victory, I was overcome with gooseflesh. I was manipulated into overwhelming emotion, yes, but I was more than willing to be. Isn’t that why you love escapist cinema?