Kabir Khan was very clear what he wanted to achieve with 83. The proceedings are kept simplistic by design, back stories of individual players or melodrama outside cricket is kept minimalistic by design, the screenplay unabashedly plays to the gallery by design, all the emotional buttons are manipulated by design, and we can see and feel all of it. But no one cares, because all of that works by design too! It is the perfect feel good, nostalgia ride one would want to take this holiday season and come out all smiling and teary eyed from it.
It focuses primarily on cricket and get the cricket pieces on point. It also benefits favorably with its on point casting, and the tremendous hard work that all of them put in to be the cricketers both on and off field. Ranveer Singh especially is exceptional and is excellent with what he does with his accent, body language and capturing the mental space of Kapil Dev. One of the top performances of his career for sure! Saqeeb Salim as Mohinder Amarnath and Jiiva as Krishnamachary Srikanth are the other tremendous performances of the film. Pankaj Tripathi as team manager Maan Singh is endearing and effective at the same time. The man has got a unique talent of almost doing the same character in every film, and still making each of them work so seamlessly. Tahir Raj Bhasin as Sunil Gavaskar is well cast but the screenplay didn’t offer him much as was possibly appropriate for his performance in that world cup. The rest of the cricketing teams, both India and opponents are all apt. A smart juxtaposition of real life shots from the games or the stills without breaking the flow of the screenplay further helps us to identify with the characters, and get into the groove of all the action. Introducing the characters through the real life mugshots on their passports is another smart use of docu drama kind of storytelling style, and is a good tool to bring back focus on the game amidst all the other distractions.
But the film has its own sets of problems too. And the problems are typical of a Kabir Khan film. Any attempt of drama / melodrama outside of cricket is overdone and are amongst the weakest parts of the film. In a way then we should be thankful that Kabir Khan decides to focus mostly on cricket and cricket only to resist the film slipping down the curve on unrealistic melodrama. Even the minimal parts that he uses all feel out of place – whether it is the Nawabpur communal violence, or the Indo Pak border issues, or introduction of little Sachin and him drawing his sudden inspirations for the game or the birth of a young Kapil during the finals. Even the parts entailing the wives of the cricketers feels unnecessary to a large extent, right from their bullying by the West Indian supporter to their walking out of the stadium, so much so that Deepika Padukone was possibly not even needed in the film. In fact, look up closely and the film goes overboard even with some of the cricketing depictions. The English commentators may be well within their rights to express their displeasure on their caricaturish condescending depiction, and jingoism is liberally weaved in with the spirit of the game, almost as if they come together as a package. Also were those dressing room and commentator box glass panels really shattered by those massive sixes of Kapil Dev? No one would ever know.
So yes, there’s enough to nitpick if one wants to, but the emotional connect of the underdog story is so strong, and talks so directly to our hearts that all the noise gets balanced out and we buy into what is being sold to us. This is a story of unbelievable courage, self belief and about one exceeding all expectations about self that it almost catches us as unaware of how we will be moved, as Kapil Dev was unaware of the historic moment of his world record breaking 175 runs innings! The goosebumps are engineered alright, but the goosebumps get the better of us at more places than one, even for some of the cynical us! As do some of the well placed cameos that garnered unabashed claps from one and all in the theatre. And the sparkling moments of glory, and surprising victories of a team most of whom had written themselves off from the word go! When they surprised themselves and all around them who had written them off, everyone in the galleries burst out in cheer for them, the country thousands of miles away came to a standstill, and a movie theatre several decades down the line turned itself into a stadium! How’s that for a highly satisfying movie watching experience?
83 is now playing at a theatre near you. Go watch it. Together as a family. The smiles you will see on some of the wrinkled faces will be priceless!
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