83 is true to cricket but Dickie Bird didn’t take that long to give Holding out

The opening scene of the movie, 83, takes us back to arguably the most iconic catch in Indian cricket’s history. Kapil Dev running backwards from mid-wicket and pulling off a stunner to dismiss Vivian Richards off Madan Lal had changed the 1983 World Cup final.

Back in 1983, the Indian audience had missed the live action of that catch, thanks to Doordarshan’s customary ‘rukawat ke liye khed hai’ impediment. But through several replays and video playbacks, it was etched on our collective memories. Ranveer Singh didn’t have the license to err. From his running steps to catching style and technique, his recreation of the magical moment on celluloid was unblemished. If you go to the movie to watch Ranveer, you will be disappointed, for you will get Kapil Dev instead.

Indian sports films, cricket especially, had kept the game’s nitty gritties, its technical aspects, at arm’s length until Sushant Singh Rajput did some course correction in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. In ’83’, the challenge for director Kabir Khan and his team was bigger. Here, they were dealing with an entire team, not an individual. For a team as iconic as the Class of 83, batting techniques and bowling actions offered almost zero cinematic license to change. The toughest part was to get Sunil Gavaskar right, that impeccable stance and the straightness of the bat. Tahir Raj Bhasin, playing the ‘Little Master’, is first-class.

The movie cared to show nets sessions as well, Gavaskar berating Balwinder Sandhu and telling him to hide his grip while bowling inswingers. The words turned out to be prophetic, as Sandhu deceived Gordon Greenidge in the final with an incoming delivery, the West Indies opener shouldering arms and getting cleaned up.

The near-accuracy in the film comes from extensive research, a huge amount of hard work and the honest intention of not letting the World Cup-winning team and the fans down. The ’83’ team roped in Sandhu and retained him throughout the filmmaking period to advise on technical details of all the players. During a recent interaction, the former medium fast bowler spoke about how he walked a tightrope, with little margin for error. Sandhu spoke on a lighter note, but Ranveer was serious when he heaped praise on the former.

“Humare coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu, jihone humko layek banaya (Our coach Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who made us competent). We were rag-tags, ungli pakadke, daant ke, pyar se hume motivate kiya (holding our fingers and through love and scolding he motivated us),” the actor had said on an AajTak show. A couple of days ago, while talking to The Indian Express, Sandhu relived the experience and called it “amazing”.

Ranveer got immersed into his character, working his socks off. He even stayed in Kapil’s house for 10 days to pick up the World Cup-winning captain’s accent, mannerisms and the Nataraja shot that overflowed on June 18, 1983 in Tunbridge Wells, during Kapil’ scintillating 175 not out against Zimbabwe. It was a breathtaking comeback story, from 17/5, and on the heels of back-to-back defeats against the West Indies and Australia.

Indian cricket changed after 1983. The Anglo-Australian duopoly in the game was broken. A couple of decades later, Sourav Ganguly took off his shirt and waved it at Lord’s balcony after India had pulled off a heist in the NatWest Trophy final. Then, in 2019, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara took office as the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) president. As the film correctly showed, Indian team manager PR Man Singh wasn’t even given the Lord’s accreditation before the start of the 1983 World Cup. Kapil’s Devils had ushered in the change. They made then Wisden editor David Frith eat his words.

From a critical point of view, the movie is pure Bollywood. Some scenes are a little too melodramatic, like the last scene, when the director tried to add suspense to the drama by delaying Michael Holding’s leg-before decision against Mohinder Amarnath. In reality, Dickie Bird had raised his finger even before Amarnath completed his appeal. The training ground chatter before India’s first game against the West Indies and bigging up the Carribbean fast bowlers, with Krishnamachari Srikkanth (played by Jiiva) commenting “yeh cricket hai ya horror film”, was unnecessary as well. India went to the World Cup after playing a full series in the West Indies and winning an ODI in Berbice. Reggae music playing every time Richards walked out to bat was a cliche worth avoiding. A grand like ’83’ deserved a more rousing background score.

But ’83’ rates highly on motivational quotient and reliving the nostalgia. The triumph of the 66-1 underdogs was told through effort and honesty.

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