When we saw that ‘83 was out on OTT platforms, we decided to watch it on a whim, unbeknownst to the reviews or the performances. Halfway through it, we googled its box office collection. This marvel of technical filmmaking, this ode to the India’s greatest sporting achievement, had flopped at its release. It didn’t even recover its production cost. Why was it that the Indian audience, that normally celebrates movies of this genre, failed to recognize its brilliance? Was it the timing, with Omicron fast spreading in the metros? Or was it that the younger generation was more interested in Spider-Man than something they’ve only heard their fathers recollect admiringly?
But now that the film is out on both Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar, it is time to raise our glasses and support an artistic ode to the magnificence of Kapil Dev, the class of Amarnath, the doggedness of Sandhu and the spirit of a billion people. What stood out first was how good the film looked. The make-up, the locations, the colour grading, all of it was crisp and shiny, as if someone really understood how important – sorry reverential – cricket was for this country. And that’s what it is. A movie about cricket. It’s not a drama, not a fictionalisation (well, to a point). It starts right before the World Cup and it ends with the team returning to their homeland with the biggest prize in the world. Kabir Khan brought his A game to this film, and it shows.
It starts by introducing the players, by showing their real and reel pictures to the audience. The sneaky cuts to the actual footage go a long way in showing how hard the crew worked to make everything the same as it was then. Ranveer Singh, with his buck teeth, isn’t impersonating Kapil Dev. He isn’t acting, he isn’t there for a job. For those 2 hours, he is Kapil Dev. He brings Dev’s effervescent charm, along with his steely resolve to win the World Cup, and those who had watched the World Cup all those years ago couldn’t believe that it was Ranveer Singh and not the Captain himself. Who knows what really transpired in those moments between matches? Did he drink 3 glasses of juice before breaking the World Record? Did he have to wash his own trousers because cricketers then were paid peanuts compared to the millions they make now? We can’t know, but Ranveer Singh makes us believe.
While he does tower over the proceedings, the supporting cast never felt like it was overshadowed. Ammy Virk as Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Saqib Saleem as Mohinder Amarnath, Jatin Sarna as Yashpal Sharma, Tahir Raj Bhasin as Sunil Gavaskar and Jiiva as Krishnamachari Srikkanth are all given enough screen time – especially Jiiva’s South-Indian-younger-brother who needs to pee during Dev’s record-breaking innings – but that’s where the problems creep in. The film, in eschewing character development and conflicts for cricket, loses out on the movie magic. What makes Chak De India so good is that it transforms the individuals into a team by the end of the film. You feel a sense of satisfaction as you walk out of that movie. There are those moments, but most of them aren’t set amidst the action in England. It does feel like a docu-drama, which isn’t a bad thing, but it never builds up well enough to its glorious climax. They did overplay the unflinching display of nationalism that seemed to hush all problems quite simply in a temperamental India. While we understand that, at the moment, this match unified us as a nation, it’s a bit far-fetched that it solved all our issues, from communal riots in Nawabpur to the soldiers at the India- Pakistan border halting all to listen to the radio.
Despite these flaws (which are few), you do tear up when you see how every normal Indian reacted to it. . Every part of our great nation, from a warehouse to a bustling street, is glued to the screen for the final two games. When they win and run away from the cheering crowd, your hair stands up. Kabir Khan knows the power of that moment and he uses it well. No one expected that win, not even the team. The movie constantly calls out the cynics, especially David Firth, an eminent journalist, who wrote a nasty piece about the Indian team before they played a single match. He would eat his words if India won, and by the end, he had to. Maybe that’s why it is so important to us. It paved the way for Cricket in India, a sport we now love so dearly.
It showed the world that WE could do it. As Ranveer/Kapil rightly said, “Apni aukaad se zyaada khelo.”