Kabir Khan reveals why the original Team India has refused to watch 83 till now


The much-awaited 83 is all set to release in cinema halls. The film that celebrates India’s first win at the cricket World Cup in 1983 has been waiting patiently for release as the country and the world saw a raging pandemic and two lockdowns. The years have chipped away at director Kabir Khan’s nervousness, leaving behind only an eagerness to see the film in theatres.

“It’s been a labour of love that we have nurtured for years. I cannot wait for everyone to finally watch that come alive on screen,” the director says about the film starring Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev. In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, the filmmaker opens up on the challenges of mounting this mammoth project, only to face the debilitating delays. He also reveals about how Kapil’s Devils and other actors in the film were cast, and the experience of shooting.

Excerpts from the conversation…

The film is a mammoth project with many key players and each with a different story. Tell us about the challenges during the scripting phase.

There were numerous challenges but never about doing justice to every part. It’s a true story of what really had happened but it’s amazing how each character did contribute to the journey. Everyone had a place in the fun. I had to be sure about getting all details right, about recreating an event that’s so iconic and deeply entrenched in the collective memory of Indians. Everybody, at least the ones above the age of 45, knows what happened in each of the matches. So to live up to that was a responsibility. We had to pay attention to every minute detail and recreate everything. And most importantly, the most challenging task was to be able to recreate the emotions the whole country went through. Will we be able to get people to cry with tears of joy when Ranveer Singh, portraying Kapil Dev, lifts the trophy at the Lord’s balcony?

Ever since the film was announced, people have been discussing the casting, and how actors actually look the part.

From the first person to the last, it took us around 18-20 months to finalise the cast. Not only they had to have some physical resemblance but also know how to play the sport. Given they were to play cricket legends, the skills were necessary. Honestly, they had to first pass the test on the pitch and then the acting audition. Even post that, they had to be on two months probation to see how they are performing. There have been a few boys who we had to say no to after three months of training. We have broken hearts on the way to creating what was good for the film. It was an extensive casting process.

The cast of 83 led by Ranveer Singh in Mumbai for promotions. (Photo: Varinder Chawla)

And then of course we also had to get on the international teams, which was another challenge. We actually got actors from the respective countries they were representing on screen. We had a five-week cricket cum casting workshop in West Indies’ islands to find the best matches. You won’t believe we ended up getting Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge’s sons playing their fathers. They are spitting images and also have similar styles. We also got Clive Llyod’s son to essay the role of Joel Garner. I think in some way we were blessed by the cricket gods. Even while shooting, we had legends like Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar, Clive Llyod wandering around on the set. How many films can boast of that?

So who was the easiest pick for you, and the toughest one?

I think we cannot point at one because every boy was portraying a living legend. It was never going to be easy for them, be it Ranveer, Tahir, Harrdy, Ammy, or anyone. It was a different process for each one. Also, they not just had to get the persona but also the style. I mean it’s easier to make actors cricketers after months of training but it’s next to impossible to make them play exactly like someone else. So it was not only about Ranveer bowling well but him bowling exactly like Kapil. I mean Harrdy Sandhu has been in the under-19 team, he knows the game but it was his journey to style his game like Madan Lal. I think it has been a tremendous journey for all of them.

And what about getting Deepika Padukone on board. Was that because of the Ranveer Singh angle?

Her casting has nothing to do with Ranveer. Yes, today, as a marketing campaign it’s a thing to talk about. It’s a real-life couple coming together for the first time after marriage. However, I would have gone to Deepika even if she was not married to Ranveer. I have admired her over the years and she is a fantastic actor, with such an amazing presence. Romi Dev’s character does not have a lot of screentime but it’s very significant. The energy that Romi brings was much needed. When I met Kapil and Romi a few years back, I realised that he is incomplete without her. And if that is the current mood, I am sure that would have been the case years back. The 1983 journey would have been incomplete without her presence in Kapil Dev’s life.

A still from 83 film featuring the cast. (Photo: Kabir Khan/Instagram)

In a recent interview, you mentioned how Deepika was all choked up after watching the film. How have the others been responding to 83?

At this stage, it would be immodest of me to share how people are reacting. It’s an emotional journey and I think Deepika summed it up with her silence. When she could hardly speak, I told her that I have understood what you went through. And all the test screenings that we’ve had, people have shown a similar reaction. As I told you my biggest challenge was to make people feel the same euphoria, the joy of the big win. I think from the response we are getting, we did come a little closer to it.

And what about the original team, did they have any feedback to share?

It’s an incredible thing and people don’t believe it but they are yet to see the film. Kapil Dev sir told us that they will all sit together as a team and watch 83 when it’s released. They have refused to see any screening. That shows how secure they are of their stardom. I am also flattered by the trust they have put in me that they’ve shared their story and now given me the freedom to interpret it. They made it my story to tell and never intruded in my filmmaking space.

As a team, how did you all cope up with the long delay and uncertainty over the release?

Needless to say, there were moments of despair and frustration when we went into lockdown. However, we cannot complain as the whole planet was suffering and everyone’s life was paused for more than a year. It was beyond our control. Now that we are here, and if we behave safely, following all protocols, we are in a better space. Yes, we would have loved to show the film when there was zero fear about Covid-19. But such is life and we need to go on with it. We are only grateful that we are finally releasing and the world can experience the same joy we had while filming.

83 film The original 83 team at a promotional event in Mumbai. (Photo: Varinder Chawla)

Did you ever think of going the digital way for release?

No, we were always committed to having a theatrical release. 83 has been designed to be experienced on the big screen.

Lastly, if you could share a special moment from the shoot or any anecdote.

Oh, there are several such moments. I remember when were shooting the climax where the World Cup is handed over to Kapil Dev. We were on the same balcony at the Lords, in the same spot recreating the moment after many years. And at that moment, Clive Llyod walked in and sat beside me. I asked the living legend if he wanted to move closer to the shooting space. With a straight face, he replied, ‘Do you want me to see the Cup given way the second time?’ (laughs). And then as we were just about to roll, two women walked in with a trolley with something covered in a velvet cloth. As they unveiled it, we saw it was the original 83 World Cup that they brought from the museum. So what you see in the film is the same cup that Kapil and his Devils won. Also, as soon as the scene got over, everyone just broke down. Ranveer, me, the rest of the team were all in tears. It was just an overwhelming surreal experience. There are so many memories that we made during the course of this amazing journey called 83.

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