It has often been said in a jocular vein that cricket and military are the two chief unifying factors in a vast, diverse and plural country as ours. This could also be possibly the reason for Ramachandra Guha, a renowned historian and sociologist, to once state that the post of captain of national cricket team stood second only to that of the Prime Minister in its importance in our country. From being a sport which was played only in the British Presidencies and a few princely states at the time of independence, cricket has evolved itself into a pan India game which is followed and played across the country. In addition to offering entertainment like all sporting events, cricket goes one step further in that the national team also creates an emotional bond with the people, uniting the nation cutting across caste, religion, region and language.
World over, movies are acknowledged as the principal form of entertainment and the same is case in India as well. The popularity of Bollywood transcends national boundaries, while the regional language cinemas have also created a niche for themselves. Yet, in India, for some reason, the worlds of cricket and movies have always stayed separate. Except for the occasional flick which features the life of a cricketer and one notable biopic about Mahendra Singh Dhoni, not many people have tried to produce a movie based on real life incidents in Indian cricket. Even the few attempts by cricketers to try their hands at acting did not meet with success.
Hence, it would have taken Kabir Khan lots of courage to make a movie about the greatest success that Indian cricket has achieved till date - the 1983 World Cup triumph. Starting as rank outsiders before the commencement of the championship, when all they had to show to their credit in eight appearances in the previous two editions was a solitary win against East Africa, “Kapil’s Devils” grew in strength as the tournament progressed to create the greatest upset that cricket world had witnessed till then - defeating the reigning champions West Indies in a low scoring finals at Lord’s. The story of how this was achieved has been told a million times over; there are video excerpts from this game on YouTube and numerous books and umpteen articles have been written on the subject. It requires tremendous amount of vision and guts of steel to venture into a plot such as this where the intricate details are known to millions of cricket lovers across the country. It's a tribute to Kabir Khan that has carried out this task with finesse and aplomb and brought out a movie which captures the events involved without diluting the emotions attached to it.
Numerous movies have been produced in Hollywood and other production houses in the western world about major battles in World Wars and other historical events. A few cinemas of this genre have been appeared in Hindi and other vernaculars in India though they usually tend to be fictionalised to cater to the taste of the viewers in the country. Hence it is a big step forward for Indian cinema to bring out a movie on a major success in sports based on facts alone without depending on a yarn to make it more appealing.
The star of the 1983 victory was skipper Kapil Dev whose superhuman performances on the field, highlight of which was the unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe, inspired his teammates into believing that trophy could be won if they put their hearts into it. Likewise the movie revolves around Ranveer Singh who carries the film on his shoulders by his stellar show as Kapil. He has done a splendid job in emulating Kapil from the smooth side on bowling action to the toothy grin. Deepika Padukone too shines her in her cameo as Romi, the wife of Kapil.
Another star performer is Pankaj Tripathi, who plays the role of P R Mansingh, the manager of the side. Right from the time when he picks up the cricketing kits of five players who joined the squad in England, he stands out for the subtlety he brings to his part. The manner in which he faced the derision of the stuffed shirts in Marylebourne Cricket Club who issued passes for the side enabling access to “all grounds except Lord’s is a classic. The firm, yet undemonstrative, manner in which he controls the younger lot and the tact shown to assuage the hurt feelings of Sunil Gavaskar, after Kapil made a critical observation about his batting, are lessons that some of the present day managers will do well to emulate.
Jiiva plays the role of Srikkanth, an irrepressible character who, along with Ammy Virk (as Balwinder Singh Sandhu) and Jatin Sarna (as the late Yashpal Sharma) provide the lighter moments. The nonchalance of Srikkanth when tackling the fearsome fast bowlers of West Indies is brought out in the movie. The move by the director to bring into the movie the contents of the speech made recently by Srikkanth about the role of Kapil in fashioning the win, through an intervention in the dinner hosted by High Commissioner stand out for its ingenuity. The fear that Lala Amarnath evokes not only on his son Mohinder (played by Saqeeb Salim) but on other members of the side is an interesting sidelight. As one of the players remarked, “He (Mohinder) does not fear the fastest bowlers in the world but one call from Lalaji is enough to make him tremble!” A surprise packet is the casting of Chirag Patil in the role of his father Sandeep Patil.
Kabir Khan deserves credit for highlighting the fortitude and guts with which Dilip Vengsarkar faced the West Indian fast bowlers in the league match till he was felled by a vicious bouncer from Malcolm Marshall. The manner in which Vengsarkar and Amarnath took on the bowling had raised hopes of yet another Indian win against the Windies till Marshall got into the act. Another deft touch was the confession made by Kirti Azad about being clueless about the beauty of a ball that dismissed Ian Botham in the semifinals. The movie is full of such snippets which will be loved by those who follow the game closely.
The 16-day period during June, 1983, when the World Cup was played remains the high point of the adolescence of cricket lovers of my generation. We used to religiously follow each of the games through radio commentary provided by British Broadcasting Corporation. The memories of all the matches played by India remains etched in our minds along with the rise and fall of fortunes during the course of each game. The ecstatic celebrations that followed the victory in the finals was a spontaneous outpouring of the happiness felt by all Indians on the night of June 25. India have won the World Cup since then and may win it many times more in future but nothing will ever come close to the joy we felt on that historic night. It was a fascinating experience to have those beautiful memories recreated through this movie, which brought out not only the events on the field but the happenings in the dressing room as well.
To those with a critical bend of mind, there are couple of factual inaccuracies that could have been avoided. Like the statement attributed to Tony Greig about England making the West Indians “grovel”, which was made in 1976 (before the start of a Test series between the two countries) and not in 1975 as quoted in the movie. Similarly Marshall is shown standing in the players balcony when the 43-run seventh wicket partnership between Jeff Dujon and him in the final was shown progressing in the middle!
I must confess that I am neither a movie buff nor an expert in analysing the technicalities involved in film making. But I have not felt so good in a very long time as I felt after watching this movie. There was not an eye in the entire cinema hall that was not moist when the movie closed. And if the spontaneous rounds of applause that broke out at regular intervals through the movie are an indication it promises to be a hit in the box office too.
Thank you Kabir Khan, Ranveer Singh and other members of the Team 83 for producing a cracker of a movie!
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)