Director Kabir Khan on 83: ‘There’s no way we could have gone wrong when the Gods of cricket were there to guide us’
“I am confident of the film because of the process with which we went through and got everything gratified by Gods of cricket,” 83 director Kabir Khan says.
Kabir Khan — the man behind many diverse films like Kabul Express, Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Tubelight — is one of the most prolific directors in Bollywood today. The filmmaker is gearing up for the release of his next sports drama – 83. The film traces the story of India’s historic win in the 1983 cricket world cup when India beat West Indies in the final of the World Cup. The team led by Kapil Dev braved all odds to win the trophy. The film has Ranveer Singh playing the role of Kapil Dev and also features Deepika Padukone.
Director Kabir Khan who is thrilled with the response he has had for 83, speaks to us about researching for the film, the process of casting, behind-the-scenes moments, how he stays non-judgmental while making a film, and more. Excerpts from the interview:
What are your memories of World Cup 83?
Some memories are hazy and some are vivid. I was in Hyderabad, at my grandfather’s house. The memory of watching the match is not very clear but I remember thinking why everyone is going crazy, why grown-up men in the family are crying and screaming, why people are dancing on the streets. I was too small to realize the impact of winning the World Cup but years later I am trying to recreate that madness, trying to make grown-up people cry in the theatre, jump up and down when they’ll see Ranveer Singh pick World Cup at the Lords.
What made you make a film on it... especially when no other filmmaker thought about it, probably?
Now when I am meeting my director friends, everyone is telling me that they would give their right arm to make the film but I am glad and grateful that they didn’t and the story came to me. It’s such a special and greatest sporting triumph our country has ever seen. As I always say, sometimes the filmmaker doesn’t choose the story, the story chooses the filmmaker and something like this happened with 83.
Were you nervous after announcing 83 on whether you had enough BTS material and stories for 2.5 hours other than cricket? Also, the script demanded precise recreation.
I am confident of the film and research we’ve put in. To be honest, I had the advantage of team 83 being with me all the time. There is no way we could have gone wrong if Kapil Dev is saying “Yes, Ranveer bowls like me,” or if Madan Lal is telling me, “Harddy Sandhu is bowling exactly like me…”, or when I have Clive Lloyd coming to the sets to see what we are recreating. The Gods of cricket were guiding us. I understand that people are so passionate about cricket in India that there’s going to be a section that is going to look for those extra details or say something is missing, but I am confident of the film because of the process with which we went through and got everything gratified by Gods of cricket. It’s such an incredible human story that after a point it won’t be about the details but about the emotions.
Which cricketer's character was most difficult to cast? You've chosen the cast from different fields. How did you go about casting?
Every single character was difficult. They were not professional cricketers and they had to play like legends – whom we have seen, we know their style. If it was a newcomer or a superstar like Ranveer Singh, everyone had to go through the same process and had to train for months. Balwant Singh Sandhu trained all the boys and he used to joke and say, “They have become so good that I can open an IPL team with them.” We got great support from the original team.
How did Ranveer and Deepika come on board? What made you choose him to play Kapil Dev?
For Ranveer, it was the director’s instinct. I call him a chameleon because he changes his colour in every film, he modifies voice for each character. Romi’s character was not planned. But when I met her, I realized that Kapil Dev is incomplete without her. Therefore, I decided to include that character. I also knew that the screen-time for her would be less but I knew that only Deepika could do justice to it. I narrated the story to Deepika and she could feel the energy and decided to come on board. I went to her not because she is Ranveer’s wife in real life but she is one of the finest actors we have and only she could bring in the energy that was needed.
We've waited long for 83. Did this delay help you in reworking certain parts or making things any better?
There were moments of despair and frustration when we went into lockdown. However, we cannot complain as the whole planet was suffering and everyone’s life was paused for more than a year. It was beyond our control. Now that we are here, and if we behave safely, following all protocols, we are in a better space. We are only grateful that we are finally releasing and the world can experience the same joy we had while filming. The film was ready for release, however, we did change a few songs, made little changes here and there.
Are you worried about criticism?
As a filmmaker criticism is a part of life. How can you be a filmmaker and be worried about it? You need to have it as some of it is constructive and as a filmmaker, we are mature enough to figure out what I should take and work upon and what I need to ignore. You have to realise, filmmaking is one of the most publically discussed professions. We don’t openly talk about lawyers, doctors, etc. but as filmmakers, our work is discussed. At the same time, the payoff is both high and low – when your work is appreciated you are made to feel like God, so if your work is not appreciated, people criticize and you should take it positively.
Be it Kabul Express, Ek Tha Tiger, Phantom, now 83, among many others... you have made some unique films. How has your journey been and what are your goals as a filmmaker?
I was a documentary filmmaker and I came to Bombay with a dream of making one film – Kabul Express. I tell this everyone in the industry that never forget what you initially came for and your dreams. If you’ll remember that then it would get easier to appreciate what you are getting over and above that. After Kabul Express, whatever has come to me is a bonus. I am truly passionate about my work and I love what I am doing. People give me love and money for it, what more can ask for? As long as I can tell the stories that I want to tell, I am thrilled and I’ll continue to do that.
Any BTS moments that we'll not get to see but were special?
There are several such moments. I remember when were shooting the climax where the World Cup is handed over to Kapil Dev. We were on the same balcony at the Lords, in the same spot recreating the moment after many years. And at that moment, Clive Llyod walked in and sat beside me. I asked the living legend if he wanted to move closer to the shooting space. With a straight face, he replied, ‘Do you want me to see the Cup given way the second time?’ (laughs). And then as we were just about to roll, two women walked in with a trolley with something covered in a velvet cloth. As they unveiled it, we saw it was the original 83 World Cup that they brought from the museum. So what you see in the film is the same cup that Kapil and his Devils won. Also, as soon as the scene got over, everyone just broke down. Ranveer, me, the rest of the team were all in tears. It was just an overwhelming surreal experience. There are so many memories that we made during this amazing journey called 83.
How do you stay non-judgmental while telling a story?
It’s impossible for a human being to be non-judgmental. We will always have a point of view. You can try and be as objective as you can, but that should not mean that we don’t have a perspective. My ideologies, my politics, and my take on issues must come through my work. As far as my films are concerned, I’ll always ensure that my personality and ideologies come through it and people who know me can say – “This is a Kabir Khan’s film.” It should not blend into something that everyone is doing. My signature has to be in the films I make.
I spent the last year looking at stories, I have written a couple of them but I am not committed to anything at the moment. I wanted 83 to release first as I’m attached to the film. By January or February, I’ll decide and will announce.
83 is now playing in cinemas.
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