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83 - What else we here for?

Yes I wept. 38 years and 6 months later, the winning moment that I had witnessed live on TV that June 25th night in Bombay in a ground floor Saraswat Colony Santacruz apartment of a schoolmate along with friends, still has the power to overwhelm. To get a chance to relive that along with my son, who is roughly the same age now that I was then, was an opportunity not to be missed. A first day first show was a must have. Nothing short of that would have sufficed.

This is one review I am not afraid of revealing any spoilers. Everyone knows the main story - of a band of brothers that nobody, including themselves, gave a snowball's chance in hell of winning. Let alone winning the Final, just winning one single match, was considered a bridge too far. In the inaugural 1975 edition of the World Cup, they had won a solitary game against a ragtag team of expats from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania clubbed into an artificial country called East Africa. In 1979, none, nada, zip. That was the level of sub-zero expectations on which the 1983 team set out to England. A few of the team members who were recently married, including Srikkanth, had even booked tickets to New York for a honeymoon/vacation to depart England after the group stage. But the singular self belief of the "mad captain" Kapil Dev (as Jiiva as Srikkanth memorably says "Kya paagal hai humara captain") was a force to reckon with. Helming a team comprising mostly of players who were far senior than him, was never going to be an easy task in a hierarchical Indian milieu that values age and experience over current form and talent. By sheer dint of his personality though, a 24 year old was thrust into the arms of destiny and cricketing immortality forever.

The movie 83, directed by Kabir Khan, was always going to be a tightrope act. Anyone under the age of 40 has only heard anecdotes from their parents or watched highlights packages on TV or YouTube. It had to appeal to that bulk of the movie going audience of today, most of whom weren't even born when the real events unfolded. On the other hand, those who were alive then and had witnessed it, have memories of it that they consider sacrosanct and don't wish to see them tarnished and given the "Bollywood treatment" of song and dance. Let me reassure both sets of folks that Kabir has pulled it off. The movie puts the cricket front and center. All else is grist to that mill. There are no back stories conjured up, no flashbacks, no rom-com interludes. We get a chance to relive what Gavaskar called a 'game changing knock", not just of that game but the game of cricket. Yes, that world record 175 not out against Zimbabwe when walking in at 4 down for 9 runs that no actual visual record exists of due to a BBC strike that day.. Yes, there are couple of creative license liberties taken to add some nationalistic and secular fervor that were perhaps unnecessary in a story so fantastical in reality that it needed no further embellishment.

The casting is excellent with each cast member bearing a phenomenal resemblance to the real person they are portraying. But it doesn't end with the looks, the voices and the accents. The amount of prep work done by them to get right every nuance of the bowling actions and the batting strokes and stances and styles is a sight to behold. Starting with Tahir Bhasin as the straight defensive shot playing Gavaskar, to Jiiva as the mercurial, hilarious, incessant shot machine Srikkanth, to Saqib Saleem playing Mohinder "Jimmypa" Amarnath, trundling in with, in the words of then commentator Dr. Narottam Puri, the signature military medium pace. Harrdy Sandhu playing Madan Lal, is the only one of the cast who has played actual high level cricket and gets the side action and slingshot action perfectly. Jatin Sarna, who was brilliant as Bunty in Sacred Games (2018-19), plays the gutsy Yashpal Sharma, who passed away unfortunately in July this year. Sandeep Patil aka Patla aka the "night captain" is played by his real life son Chirag Patil. (Amazingly, Windies paceman Malcolm Marshall is also played by his real life son Mali Marshall). His night team comprised of Dinker Sharma as Kirti Azad, and Dhairya Karwa as Ravi Shastri. Ammy Virk as Balwinder Sigh Sandhu, who was the coach and consultant to the actors for over a year, and Nishant Dahiya as the angrez-looking Roger Binny, round up the team. Pankaj Tripathi plays the manager PR Man Singh balancing inspiration and exasperation in his expectedly reliable way. There are also a couple of cameos worth waiting for that I won't reveal but caused the audience in the theater to break into spontaneous applause. Finally Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev. He has subsumed his natural exuberant self and his penchant for over-the-top acting. He gets Kapil bang on from the diffidence to the confidence, from the batting to the bowling. When asked by an incredulous English journalist to clarify his comment that he is here to win the World Cup, he answers in that halting accent we all know so well, "What else we here for?". At that point, 83 and Kapil and Ranveer da jawaab nahi.

December 23, 2021

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