83 movie review: Team Kabir Khan and Ranveer Singh bring the Cup home … again

83 is a stirring reminder of a time when pride in a national team’s achievement united India and national pride had not yet been weaponised by the mob.

Anna MM Vetticad December 21, 2021 15:05:19 IST

3.5/5

Language: Hindi-English 

The head and heart are in a tug of war as I write this review.

The heart wants only to remember that watching director-producer Kabir Khan’s 83 is an emotional and exhilarating experience. 

The head reminds me of the “uff, did this have to be included?” facepalm moments that lie scattered through the film.

Each will have its say here, but I can tell you already that the heart has won, because more than anything else,

83 is a stirring reminder of a time when pride in a national team’s achievement united India and national pride had not yet been weaponised by the mob.   

83 is the story of the Indian cricket team’s victory in the 1983 World Cup in England. Back then, India was not the cricketing superpower that it is today, money was in short supply, national-level players did not automatically become millionaires and televisions were not yet a fixture in every Indian household.  

In this scenario, captain Kapil Dev and his band of cricketers travelled to the country that had once colonised India. They were initially trashed by the press but snatched admiration out of the jaws of disdain with win after win against accomplished opponents, ultimately dusting the English team out of the tournament before defeating the giants of the game – West Indies led by the great Clive Lloyd – in the final. 

Kapil’s Devils, as they are still called, opened up a world of possibilities to Indians. Khan’s film captures the country’s own sporting establishment’s cynicism about India’s chances that year, the condescension they faced in England, Kapil’s charisma, the banter and occasional tension between the teammates, even a sliver of their problematic behaviour towards each other and above all, the strategising involved, the heartbreaks and thrills of the matches they played that unforgettable Summer

The film’s success lies in the fact that though a lot of what it recounts is widely known and we all know the ending, Khan is able to keep the suspense going till the very last ball.  

In an early scene in 83, when the team manager PR Mansingh is insulted by an official in England, he makes a remark about how India gained Independence decades back but is yet to gain respect. The sentiment expressed is faultless, and the actor playing Mansingh (Pankaj Tripathi) is restrained, but the choice of words for a one-on-one conversation rather than, say, a speech, makes it a worrying moment for a viewer who is not keen on formulae: so will 83 be filled with the bombast that has so often populated patriotic fare from Bollywood? 

Keep the faith – the filmmaker who gave us Bajrangi Bhaijaan is not one to reduce the cricket World Cup to a Kesari or Gadar. 83 is not bereft of clichés, but Khan does not allow it to become verbose,  deafening or a vehicle for hate-mongering – on the cricketing field or off it. 

Obviously, a detailed profile of each player is not possible in the film but, quite remarkably, the director and writers (Khan himself, Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan and Vasan Bala, with dialogues credited to Khan and Sumit Arora) give space and a distinct identity to Kapil Dev (Ranveer Singh), Krishnamachari Srikkanth (Jiiva), Mohinder Amarnath (Saqib Saleem), Yashpal Sharma (Jatin Sarna), Madan Lal (Harrdy Sandhu), Roger Binny (Nishant Dahiya), Balwinder Sandhu (Ammy Virk), Sunil Gavaskar (Tahir Raj Bhasin) and to some extent, Syed Kirmani (Sahil Khattar). I followed that World Cup closely as a child, but I will leave the professionals of that era to comment on the accuracy and fairness of the characterisations. 

Even several supporting characters who were not part of the team are portrayed with clarity, which is why the thin writing of Sandeep Patil, Ravi Shastri and Dilip Vengsarkar is noticeable. That said, the only one who comes off looking completely redundant through the film is Sunil Valson (R Badree) – the story of the team member who did not get to play a single match in that historic competition is worth exploring, but the script struggles with him. 

The narrative shifts smoothly back and forth between England and India, the players’ personal and professional lives, matches and moments of leisure, with a steady rhythm that owes a lot to editor Nitin Baid’s hand. What keeps it from being entirely even-toned is the loudness of the songs – Pritam’s compositions for 83 are moving, but played at a needlessly high volume. (Julius Packiam’s equally moving background score is utilised more effectively.)

There are other superfluous elements in 83. The reference to Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, plays to the gallery and feels a bit silly. And at least one joke is stretched far beyond the punchline.

83 works nevertheless because it is a celebration, it understands the difference between opponents and enemies, and because of its cast. Each one not only looks like an actual player on the sporting field, but they imbue their respective characters with a believability that is particularly noteworthy because acted scenes are interspersed in places with actual matches yet the difference between the real cricketers and the actors playing them is not jarring.

Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev has the benefit of some astonishingly good make-up, but that is not the reason why he disappears into his role: he seems to have actually lived the part of the beloved legend. When Kapil faces snarky comments and disappointed Indian fans in England, you can almost feel his anger and/or pain radiating off screen.

83 movie review Team Kabir Khan and Ranveer Singh bring the Cup home  again

Ranveer Singh in 83

The rest of the cast is just as impressive. Tamil star Jiiva, making his Hindi debut here, is an absolute darling as the effervescent Srikkanth. His is a measured act that allows the character to be hilarious without being ridiculous and (bless him!) a far cry from the ‘Madrasi’ stereotype once so dear to Bollywood.

The dialogue writing with the easy blend of Hindi and English plays an important role in ensuring that both Kapil and Srikkanth are never caricatured in the film. 

(Caveat: there are a few points at which I could not decipher the spoken lines – I am not sure whether this is because of the sound quality of the film or the preview theatre, or the dialogue delivery by the actors.)

Nishant Dahiya is excellent as one of the best-written players in 83 – Roger Binny, the highest wicket taker of the tournament and (minor spoiler ahead) as an Anglo-Indian Christian, the player whose presence is used to gently remind viewers that what members of dominant communities might consider casual ribbing and good-humoured teasing can often be hurtful, especially when it emerges from stereotyping and subconscious prejudice. (Spoiler alert ends)

Kabir Khan knows how to make political statements without sermonising. The jubilation in this film is infectious, the patriotism poignant because it is such a contrast to the ongoing real-world public discourse about love for the country. 83, then, mirrors the Indian team’s 1983 World Cup outing – its flaws notwithstanding, a winning performance.

Rating: ***1/2

This review was first published when 83 released in cinemas in December 2021. It is now streaming on Netflix India and Disney+ Hotstar.

ALSO READ:  

Kabir Khan Director’s Cut: On Ranveer Singh, patriotism without chest-thumping in 83, the ‘Madrasi’ stereotype, and Bajrangi 2

Anna MM Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial

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