83 (PG, 152 minutes) Directed by Kabir Khan **** ½
It was sporting victory that inspired and united a nation.
Having won just one match in the previous two Cricket World Cups, the Indian team arrived at the 1983 tournament in England and Wales as the biggest underdog – shouldn’t escape a group of four teams which also included Australia and the West Indies. .
Led by versatile Kapil Dev (Ranveer Singh), they would literally make local journalists eat their words.
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More than five years in the making and delayed nearly two years by the current pandemic, this is a bombastic, sometimes bary, but bloody and brilliant biopic that only Bollywood could conjure up.
This is india Invictus, Chariots of fire, The mug, The miracle of Bern and Major league, a roller coaster of emotions that delivers the best cricket drama on and off the pitch since Gary Sweet faced Hugo Weaving in the 1984 Australian miniseries Body line and surely must now be seen as a rival of the 2001 epic Lagaan as the best film on “The Gentleman’s Game”.
Director Kabir Khan (WWII series The forgotten army), also one of the four screenwriters on the project, does a magnificent job of keeping the viewer engaged in the action, striking an excellent balance between focusing on the jokes of the touring boys on the team, their determination. to prove their detractors wrong and their epic exploits on the ground.
While it’s roughly the same length as a Twenty20 match, the execution time flies by, thanks to a terrific cast of characters and full, truly awesome recreations of the matches (complemented by a few moments of snapshot or flash video of the real thing).
While perhaps making matches more exciting than they actually were (remember this was a time when all players wore white, matches were 60 overs per side – which could be spread over two days – and the referee’s decision on the pitch was final), the action is fabulously evocative and backed up by a soundtrack of sad ballads and uplifting hymns.
Sadly, for Kiwi fans, Geoff Howarth and company are only seen fleetingly, but the cast replacing Ian Botham, Imran Khan, and the foes of the Indian West Indies (at least four of them are the sons of the real players of cricket) are pretty brilliant matches, even though “Bob Willis” sports a really terrible wig and their “Greg Chappell” is appalling.
What maybe the real surprise is how funny it is 83 is. The script offers many hilarious moments, as the team learn about English cuisine and customs and mercilessly tease each other. Much of the humor comes from the interaction within the team, from Kris Srikkanth of Jiiva and the hesitant English of Dev of Singh.
The “Hayana Hurricane” is at the heart of this sometimes intimate epic, whether it’s learning to wash your cricket whites, trying to inspire your discouraged troops individually – or collectively – or wielding his ” Mongoose “(Dev response to Lance Cairns’ Excalibur shoulderless bat) for record high effect. Singh portrays him with winning humility, a self-effacing humanity that can only be charmed.
Dedicated to 1983 veteran Yashpal Sharma who died last July, this is a more than fitting tribute to him and the rest of the players from a time when they played simply out of love for the game and pride in being able to represent their country.
Yes, there is a little boy with an Indian flag who steadfastly supports his team in their ups and downs. Of course, there is more than one scene where stuffy Englishmen have to reluctantly accept that they were wrong about this team. And naturally, a Sachin Tendulkar is one of the millions taped on television for the final.
But all the tropes and clichés detract from the boldness and charm of this tale which is almost guaranteed to leave a huge smile on your face.
In English and Hindi with English subtitles, 83 is now screened in select theaters.