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No Indian can ever forget how Kapil Dev defeated the twice World Champions West Indies and secured an unprecedented win at the Lord’s Cricket Ground on June 25, 1983. History was made that day but the match was not recorded because of the BBC’s Industrial strike.
83 is a credulous 2.5 hours long documentary-style drama that made me weep profusely. Directed by Kabir Khan and produced by Deepika Padukone, Kabir Khan, Vishnuvardhan Induri, and Sajid Nadiadwala, Ranveer Singh plays the indomitable captain Kapil Dev in this carefully researched biopic. The cricket fraternity including Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, and Madan Lal and film critics praised the director and actors for accurately depicting the demeanor, gait, and flair of every player. I was hooked by the black and white team photo of the cricketers, the interspersed real footage of the match, and Kapil Dev’s soft but unforgettable laconic comments on each player. Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of Kapil Dev was artful with prosthetic teeth, hair, and restrained English-Punjabi pronunciation.
The Indian 14 had all odds stacked against them. Poorly paid and not very focused (thought they were on a 45 day holiday with a stopover in England), initially, they did not even receive clearance to the Lord’s stadium. But they were totally unaware of the resolve of their young, swashbuckling captain who said: We here to win? Why else (are) we here? Not a loquacious speech but something in those grammatically incorrect words held truth that hit the mark. After losing three practice matches, the coin toss, and four wickets, they made an unlikely comeback. The choreographed cricket by Rob Miller and ReelSports on the big screen was worth the watch!
Pankaj Tripathi’s role as PR Man Singh is quaint in his native cunning and Hyderabadi dialect. It was funny to see him fretting over the excess baggage charge for the achars and phone calls with the airlines trying to negotiate the international ticket change fee. Jiiva as Krishnamachari Srikkanth aka Cheeka is hilarious, especially when he meets the Queen of England. I recognized Boman Irani as Farokh Engineer. Cricket fans like me or older just lapped up the film, but youngsters who are more into Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, and MS Dhoni probably needed to see this remake of the historic day to familiarize themselves with the grandmasters of cricket. It was heartbreaking to watch Indian wickets fall but I would have liked to see more footage of Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards, Gary Sobers, Andy Roberts. We idolized the fiery West Indies cricketers equally and collected their pictures. I missed the frenzied pitch of the commentary that the movie was not able to recreate. I also hated the fact that the Indian Cricket Board paid our sportsmen so poorly.
It is a story about faith. It is a story about keeping a promise to a mother and her motherland. It is a story about strategy, courage, and magic. It is a story about indomitable confidence. It is a story of a man who hated mediocrity. It is the story of overcoming all odds. It is a story that changed the scope of cricket in India. I have cherished memories of watching this legendary match in India with my dad in Bombay. Kapil’s multiple sixers were 20 yards over the boundary line on that day. What vigor! What style! Fans were going bonkers in the stands.
I know 83 fared well at the Box office in India and overseas, despite the Omicron wave thwarting the earnings. I tried to watch it during the Christmas holidays in the Bay Area but most of the theaters were sold out. When I did get to see it. I cried and remembered a chance meeting with Kapil Dev in Atlanta (2019) at the AAPI Indian doctors’ national convention. He was the guest of honor. He said: I am not very educated like all of you but I can tell you that if you see that your child is interested in something, encourage him to follow his heart. This film was a joyful reminder that a country riddled by secular strife in 1983 was united by a World Cup victory. It can happen again. That’s the magic of a good game. That’s the magic of India. I wish I could watch it again with my dad and laugh and cry with him over again. Well played Kapil! Well played Rajkumari Nikhanj of Haryana (Kapil’s mother)! Well played Kabir Khan! Well played Ranveer Singh! Well played India! What a story!
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.