Being a cricket fan, I was aware of India's remarkable win against West Indies in the 1983 World Cup finals, where a comparatively weak team defeated the reigning world champions, defeating a ruthless bowling and batting attack. However, it's only after watching 83, that I can feel and realise the emotions of a widely laughed-at team of underdogs, who not just fought against statistical odds of cricket, but against the distrust, lack of faith, and badgering of people, fans, and administrators alike.
While almost all production houses and directors are often skeptical of recreating events from a distant past, especially which has more than one individual involved, Kabir Khan, with 83, achieves this near-impossible feat with utmost perfection. By focusing on in-depth research and intense collaboration with the original World Cup winners, Khan, using minimal fictionalisation, depicts this triumphant journey that will be cherished by every Indian, filling them with emotions of joy and pride.
83 starts with a hard-hitting theme that it mostly uses to convey the film's purpose – a story of underdogs overcoming all odds to take on the world. The characters, including Ranveer Singh's Kapil Dev, are presented as the least favourable choices for the tournament of that stature. From the first moment, the team, that has previously only won a single World Cup match (against a team that isn't even playing this time) is dismissed by opponents, journalists, and even Indian fans. And to add to that, the lack of resources from the board puts the team under constant pressure. Kapil's smiling wobble with the English language, which Ranveer very elegantly pulls, reflects the stress-induced inferiority in the captain. The only sense of faith and hope in the film is Pankaj Tripathi's PR Maan Singh, who, strongly supports his captain's explicit intention to win.
This is just one move of perfection by Khan, who then goes on to cover all aspects of the team's journey compellingly, diving deep into every player's emotions and their contribution to the iconic win. A significant portion of the film is all but cricket, which Khan tactfully uses to make 83 a story of the winning team and not only the leading star. Kabir Khan's all-time collaborator, cinematographer Aseem Mishra tactfully uses his camera work to make these matches enticing, especially for the viewers who aren't fully aware of the historic victory the team pulled off. It surely doesn't feel like you're watching a real cricket event, but the shots dive into the team's on-field strategy, as well as off-field dilemma during the crucial moments.
Khan's triumph card in the film is his perfect, top-notch casting. Ranveer's immersive performance as Dev is a delight, which he makes far more intriguing through his apt impersonation of the cricketer's movement, dialect, and talking style, not to mention, his looks. But it's not Ranveer alone who makes the film thrive. Each actor looks truthful to their roles, portraying the feelings, weaknesses, and mental state of their respective players. This is where the film separates itself from most biopics.
Whether it's Tahir Raj Bhasin's convincing performance as a lagging Gavaskar who brings the balance of professionalism to the team or Nishant Dahiya's loving presence as the captain's underdog, none of the cast members disappoints. Saqib Salim surprisingly cheers up the screen, whereas Jatin Sarna, Chirag Patil, and the charming Jiiiva add to the little special moments of the film. Kabir further treats the audience with moments of laughter from the dressing room and players' hotel accommodations where they share a bond beyond cricket, which, as Kapil Dev has always iterated, is still strong in real life too.
One of the most powerful aspects of the film is the depiction of Indian fans, who go through mood swings as India struggles to reach the semis after their two consecutive wins and then two hard losses. While the fans residing in England show anger at the team's poor performance, the ones back in India feel disgraced at India's humiliating losses. And then, in a sequence, PM Indira Gandhi uses India's semifinals match to curb communal riots in a suburb. All of this combined reflects the notion of cricket being more than a sport in India. The film depicts how the sport drives India's heart to the point that it straightaway inspires harmony and togetherness, something we all witness when India takes on Pakistan. Kabir diligently uses religious discrepancies in India to show cricket as an inspiration and the World Cup win as a symbol of reignited hope.
83 is not a serious film, and it doesn't deliberately try to convey these thematic interpretations. The film cleverly touches on these points and manages to stay a sports biopic throughout. It just manages to convince people, that this win, at a time when India was still undergoing social and economical turbulence, brought much more than a cup back home.
Further, Kabir Khan hasn't refrained from using Bollywood elements in the film. There are dramatizations, emotional outbursts, a fair share of melodies, dance, and a hint of old-school Bollywood patriotism. Even the slow-motion shots, the graphics, and the post-win celebrations (which surprisingly introduce a future cricket prodigy – Sachin Tendulkar) are shot in typical Bollywood style. However, none of these elements look forced in the film. The film's story and purpose are so personal to any cricket fan that they just add up to its brilliance.
Separating itself from other sports drama films, while keeping all the entertaining cliches intact, 83 is the perfect guide to India's World Cup win, which took the world by storm.