'83' Review: Cathartic, sobering, a piece of nostalgia

No wonder 83 felt to me like a certain way of life that we seem to be unable to hold on to now. A piece of nostalgia that made me face up to a steady sense of loss of basic human goodness and dignity

'83' Review: Cathartic, sobering, a piece of nostalgia

Namrata Joshi

I haven’t watched a cricket match in ages, despite an early childhood that was replete with the game and the passion and mania surrounding it. Kabir Khan’s 83, on underdog India’s historic world cup cricket win in 1983 under the leadership of Kapil Dev (Ranveer Singh), has been an exercise in reclaiming those memories, like brushing the dust off the frayed sepia photographs. It has been as much an easy remembrance of the glory days—the “horror” of Michael Holding and Andy Roberts—as about coming to terms with a lot that I had entirely forgotten—the “invasion” of the fans in the semis for instance. Mind is a fickle entity after all.

Those were the days when cricket didn’t feel as crassly commercial and cutthroat competitive to our young eyes as it appears to have become now. There was guilelessness and innocence, and a concomitant lack of money and resources, which may not have necessarily made us command the game but appeared to engender a very likeable kinship and camaraderie, nonetheless. A romanticized view, perhaps, but one that is at the core of the woozy appeal of the film as well. 83’s is a bumbling team you root for because it’s so charming and likeable in all its little follies, frailties, linguistic challenges and other trespasses, especially with Sandeep Patil as the “night captain” to Kapil’s real deal.

So, fittingly Christmas Eve is when I finally heard spontaneous claps and cheers again in a movie theatre with Khan ushering in just the right dose of hope and happiness, smiles and tears, riding on a bunch of ordinary blokes. Much needed in a vexed festive season.

The world cup victory is a milestone that demands a lot, on paper, from the filmmaker, of its fictional recreation on screen. Khan appears to go about things direct dil se—at times being rulebook faithful to reality, just as he takes fanciful liberties with things otherwise. Events we are certain would not have happened for real, but they fit in with Khan, and the film’s worldview. There is a conscious exercise to not be that perfect, brilliant, classic sports film but one that consciously packs in liberal doses of humour and a solid emotional wallop, however broad be the brushstrokes or simplistic be the stirrings. You flow along with even the most cringe expressions of nationalism: “Azaadi to jeet gaye, izzat jeetna baaki hai (We have won the independence but not the self-respect and dignity as yet).” You allow yourself to be emotionally manipulated with the blood on shirt and seven stitches of Dileep Vengsarkar in the face of the hostile short-pitched bowling from West Indies pacers. The suddenly friendly Pakistan on the border on the day of the finals and a woman in labour at the fall of the ninth West Indian wicket—you smirk, smile and willingly suspend your disbelief.

There is a spontaneous intimacy that gets fostered between the audience and Jimmy, Kaps, Humphreys, Jimpa, Madipa et al on screen. The actors do not entirely look or behave like the real-life heroes of the game, but it frees them from the shackles of mimicry to own the characters other ways. Ranveer Singh with the toothy grin and open face of Kapil Dev leads from the front with commitment and aplomb and talks with his eyes. Other team members also get defined in their own way, with Saqib Saleem as Mohinder Amarnath, Jiiva as Kris Srikkanth and Jatin Sarna as the belching Yashpal Sharma stealing the golden moments of the film. Wish there was some more of the Gavaskar and the supposed tension though. And then there are these sweet touches, of Mohinder Amarnath stepping in, in the role of his father, Lala Amarnath. Real Kapil Dev (not as himself) cheering on the reel Kapil Dev on screen and a tiny Sachin Tendulkar getting inspired to play the game.

In a way, 83 didn’t feel like it was about cricket, Kapil Dev or the world cup alone but a bit more. A good-humored take on the oddities of being Indians for instance—packing pickles as excess baggage for a trip abroad, haggling for passes for a crucial match, saving precious forex by doing your own laundry.

It’s also Khan’s take—however in your face—on the divisive reality of India and about cricket making us rise above the differences of caste, class or religion. Yes, communal tension was a reality back then as well (fictionalized Nawabpur instead of Nellie?), but the political leadership was proactive enough to douse the fire with the “festival” of cricket as opposed to the galling silence on the Haridwar Dharam Sansad hate speech now.

No wonder 83 felt to me like a certain way of life that we seem to be unable to hold on to now. A slice of history, a piece of nostalgia that curiously made me face up to a steady sense of loss of basic human goodness, decency and dignity. Most would describe the film as uplifting and exhilarating. I found it cathartic and sobering.

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