Filmmaker Kabir Khan made headlines when he announced a movie, 83, on India’s win at the 1983 World Cup. With Ranveer Singh stepping in Kapil Dev’s shoes, it took the nation on a nostalgic trip. Interestingly, Kapil Dev’s daughter, Amiya Dev, was one of the assistant directors on the film. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moment, Kabir shares his experience of working on the magnum opus.
Excerpts from the interview:
How sure were you about what you wanted to say in 83 ?
I took the decision early on that my film will only be about 25 days in June 1983. Usually, people go with a backstory, childhood, love story, and all that. I wanted this to be the story of what happened to these bunch of young men who just ended up in London in June 1983 and how it ends.
How easy or difficult was it to gather all the information?
I spent two years researching it. Unfortunately, we don’t archive the information in India. Even a lot of the journalists who I met who were there during the 1983 tournament, didn’t have copies of their own articles. Fortunately, for me, Lords opened up its archives which turned out to be a gold mine. I found all the articles written by Indian journalists during that time. They had retained original copies of magazines and newspapers. I would spend seven to eight days at a go in their archives going through everything. I had also done a lot of primary research in the sense that I spent a long time in England trying to meet people who had actually gone to the matches or had been part of some incidents. For example, characters of Toor and Gill, the two mechanics who are following them, and then they get involved in that one clash that happened. I had seen mention of it in some newspaper about some problem and violence, but I didn’t get the details. Then I met these two gentlemen who were a part of a group called the Great Indian Dancers. They told me they had a gang that used to follow the team, how after the semifinals, they were attacked by these guys.
Did you exclude anything that you really wanted to use in the film?
The thing is when you get a hundred anecdotes, it’s tricky to weave them all into a coherent screenplay, as it becomes jerky. So, yes, there were some things that we know, which we probably left out. Some jokes that I would have liked to pick up, but I couldn’t put them in. But otherwise, more or less almost all the bigger incidents and anecdotes we managed to use them. When I was doing the research, people used to ask me, ‘How much are you going to research?’ I would say, ‘I want to reach that state that if I mention 1983 to somebody and I’m in a position to I have researched. But there is one anecdote I really wanted to put in, which actually didn’t happen in 83. It happened with Kapil Dev at a press conference. I still feel maybe I should have put it into that one last press conference just before the finals. Somebody asked Kapil Dev apparently, ‘Why can’t you have another Kapil Dev in the Indian cricket team?’ And he said that. ‘Father dead, mother too old.’ I wanted to use that.
It is a bit of a challenge when you revise a story that is old for this generation...
I believe that when you do a true story, at the end of it when the audience realises it’s a true story, they give you that extra love and respect for having pulled it off. Or they feel enriched having heard a true story. But having said that, I have often felt that whenever you’re making a true story, you have to make it, forgetting it’s a true story. You should not start believing that you will get more love or you’ll get extra brownie points from the audience just because it’s a true story. You have to tell it in a way that has to be entertaining and engaging, irrespective of whether it’s true or not. The audience has to go in not saying, okay, we’re watching a true story. They have to go in saying they are watching a story. Did this story interest us? Did this story engage us? And that’s the way I made it. So today, you know, when I speak to people from across the world, people in China who don’t know about cricket, last year, it was meant to go to the Shanghai Film Festival, and the festival got canceled because of COVID. This year, 83 is the only film that they carried over from the previous year, which usually never happens. The committee watched and enjoyed it so much. Now for them, it’s not a true story. They are not watching it as Kapil Dev’s story or Madan Lal’s story.
Jiiva as Krishnamachari Srikkanth was fabulous and so were many of the actors who played their parts so well. Any anecdotes you would like to share from the shoot?
The persona that Jiiva took on, the way he walked, the way he spoke, and the way he twitched his nose… I remember Sunil Gavaskar came on set when we were shooting in England. He was in London and he visited us when we were shooting. We took him into the tent with five cameras and monitors. All the cameras were on and suddenly from one of the cameras, Jiiva just walked across. Gavaskar literally got up and said, ‘Oh my God, for a moment I thought Chikka was walking across the frame. So I think for that, yeah, that's the hard work, the entire team, and all the actors have trained for a year paid off.
Hard work also meant playing cricket...
The amount they've trained is unprecedented because they were also very aware that that's going to go down in posterity. It's that one lifetime. We will have to recreate 83. You don't get these chances again and again. So they really put in a lot of hard work. The boy who played Ravi Shastri, Dhariya Karwa is 6 feet 3 inches. When he closes your eyes, you feel like it's Ravi Shastri speaking, looks similar. But he was a right-arm bowler. I remember I told him, you're a right-arm bowler and Ravi Sir was left-arm. He said, ‘How much time do I have?’ And in three months, he became a left-arm bowler. I'm shocked. If you ask me to sign with my left hand, I can't do it. When Ravi Shastri saw it, he just bowed down. He said ‘This is like kudos to that boy that he pulled it off in my style and exactly replicated it to the t.’
Where were you when India won the World Cup in 1983?
I was in school and it was summer holidays. I remember we had gone to my hometown, Hyderabad, and we were watching it with my joint family. I was not old enough to really understand the significance of the tournament. When India won, people started dancing and crying, and fireworks began. I thought why have these people gone crazy? Why are they crying and dancing? What is happening? I thought we were just watching another match. So, when I was making this film, I wanted to capture that — how the team made people cry and go mad. During the climax in the film, when run after the last LBW, in a sense, it was an ode to what I saw happening around me when the team won.
Other team members share their memories
"My most memorable moment was obviously India winning the World Cup. Except that, Kapil's catch to dismiss Richards in the final was also the one thing, which I can't forget. Could have been better, if I was not injured. Nevertheless, it was a good team. The team atmosphere was great throughout the journey and that's why we were able to win it. It was one of those life changing moments for us and for Indian cricket as well. It's been almost 40 years since then, but still every moment is fresh."
"Contributing to India's World Cup win was definitely the most memorable moment. Kapil's 175 runs in that crucial match. Also contributions from every individual at various points of journey were important. The team was full of all-rounders and that was our strength. Also the atmosphere in the Indian dressing room was good throughout the tournament. We enjoyed every bit of it."
"The 1983 World Cup winning moment changed the future of cricket in India. It was unforgettable. Cricket has changed a lot in the last 40 years. The country was looking for that magic moment and 1983 was that year. The welcome we got after coming back to India was just unforgettable. The whole airport was full of crowds. We all attended so many functions. Winning the World Cup was special because it inspired many generations."
(With inputs from Rushikesh Bamne)