If there are two things that can effectively sum up the cultural zeitgeist of India, they would be cinema and cricket. Both of them have icons and pathbreaking moments attached to them. Any discussion about Indian cinema is incomplete without the mention of Amitabh Bachchan or Sholay. Similarly, any discussion about cricket is incomplete without elders animatedly telling youngsters about the glorious and unbelievable triumph of the Indian cricket team in the 1983 World Cup. Kabir Khan's latest directorial 83 introduces the cinematic element to cricket and lets Indians relive what is perhaps one of the most inspirational underdog stories in the history of world cricket.
My grandfather used to narrate to me stories of how India beat the formidable West Indies to lift the world cup in 1983. Having only watched a very mediocre West Indies side play cricket in my time, I found his stories hard to believe. Having watched the clips available on YouTube, I always longed to watch more of the matches of that time. 83 offered me a chance to experience that in a way only cinema can offer. Watching 83 in a theatre is like watching a cricket match on the giant screen, with a hall full of strangers clapping and cheering for the same team.
Yesteryear elements like pitch invasions, camera positioned at the wicket-keeper's end, helmets without grill etc. made for an effective re-imagination of a bygone era. The very fact that the film does not waver much from the central narrative of cricket, speaks much about the intention of the makers – unbridled cricketainment, punctuated by heavy doses of nostalgia and fanfare. The film is peppered with references – a little curly haired boy called Sachin runs in to watch Kapil Dev's men on television – and cameos like Mohinder Amarnath playing Lala Amarnath.
A nation which has received its nutrition from the tales of grit and determination of players like Sunil Gavaskar, Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Dilip Vengsarkar, among others, is sure to feel an adrenaline rush when it witnesses reel imaginations of the same people play out the 1983 World Cup, while being expectedly ridiculed and belittled by experts and journalists who thought they knew better.
It will perhaps be an understatement to call Ranveer Singh a shapeshifter. He wears Kapil Dev's skin and soul over his own. The diction, the stare, the cricketing style – every noticeable character trait has been rendered to near perfection. The casting is exquisite and evidently immaculate. All the actors put on exhaustively researched and skilfully executed screen impersonations of real-life personalities. Tahir Raj Bhasin's Sunil Gavaskar is confident and stylish, Saqib Saleem's Mohinder Amarnath is meek yet exuding experience, Jatin Sarna's Yashpal Sharma is feisty while Jiiva's Srikkanth is funny and enjoyable.
The film also does well to insert documentary images and footages from the matches and juxtapose them with the representations. These call-backs excite the audience and reassure them of the veracity of the events being depicted. Moreover, the film also turns its focus on national integration through sports, as India doing well in the World Cup is shown to bring together disparate communities and spark a sense of camaraderie between vanguards on both sides of our rugged border with Pakistan.
Sport is above every other socially engineered and artificially constructed division. 83 only makes an effort to reinforce this truth. As the national team aces the 22 yards, the diverse population erupts in joy and euphoria, forgetting all kinds of conceived differences. This is also where a theatrical experience of this film trumps any other mode of viewing. Watching the film with enthused strangers, cheering at every favourable run and wicket, adds to the collective, communitarian and sentimental experience of watching the recounting of a time when the nation upended expectations and emerged a giant-slayer at the global stage.
83 is a nostalgia-fuelled joyride. Celebration, triumph and victory are written all over it since every chord it strikes is one of harmony and happiness. Even though everyone knows what transpired in the World Cup, some defining moments are still impactful enough to give goosebumps to the average viewer. Powered by rousing music by Pritam, the film is bound to leave viewers teary-eyed, more so if they are cricket fans who have grown up listening to fables of that unbelievable Indian glory in a distant land.