‘Nobody gave us a hope in hell’: 83, the feelgood film about India’s underdog cricket team – The Guardian

Director Kabir Khan shares his memories of India’s surprise World Cup win, and imbuing his unconventional biopic with generational weight
On Sunday night, one film did a clean sweep of the awards at this year’s Indian film festival of Melbourne: 83, an unconventional sports biopic and one of the best Bollywood crowd-pleasers in recent years. The comedy-drama won best film, best director for the renowned writer-director Kabir Khan and best actor for Ranveer Singh, who portrays Kapil Dev, the captain of India’s vastly underestimated and underfunded 1983 Cricket World Cup team who famously claimed victory against returning two-time champions the West Indies.
Khan was 15 when the final was played at Lord’s cricket ground in London, but he couldn’t grasp the magnitude at the time. “More than the match itself, I remember very distinctly thinking that day: why the hell has everyone gone mad?” he says. “Why are the grownup relatives of my family crying? Why are people dancing?”
It wasn’t until he learned about the widespread pessimism surrounding India’s chances – including from the Indian players themselves, seven of whom had already booked holidays to the US thinking they wouldn’t get past the group stages – that he began shaping his screenplay.
“People sometimes ask me: ‘Would you want to do 2011?’” Khan said, referring to India’s second World Cup win in Mumbai. “And I’ve often said that 2011 is not really a story. In 2011 we were the favourites. We were playing at home, we had lots of superstars in our team, and we went ahead and won. It’s 1983 which is a story, because nobody in the world gave us a hope in hell.”
Another significant difference between the two victories is that the 2011 World Cup was widely watched in its entirety, but only the 1983 final and semi-final were aired live in India (a decision that is dramatised in 83). Furthermore, India’s second group-stage match against Zimbabwe, during which Dev smashed a world record-breaking 175 runs, wasn’t aired anywhere due to a BBC strike. No footage of the match exists.
“That was the greatest responsibility for me, because this innings has taken such a mythical proportion in people’s imagination,” Khan said. To recreate that match, he not only visited the Lord’s archives, but also interviewed locals in the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells, who witnessed the game first-hand. For the first time, cricket fans can watch 83 to see a version of that game.
Khan’s cast also went to great lengths to portray the 1983 cricket greats: right-handed actor Dhairya Karwa spent months practising left-arm bowling to portray Ravi Shastri, while Singh even moved in with Dev for two weeks to study the skipper’s mannerisms. To make his recreations feel in step with the period, Khan used era-specific lenses and placed his cameras only outside the boundary, to mimic the 1980s style of broadcasting. He also spliced real archive footage into the drama to punctuate reenactments by the cast, many of whom are spitting images of the legends they portray.
While this boils down to a stellar makeup job in the case of Singh, there’s a more intimate reason for some of the other actors. Chirag Patil plays his own father, Sandeep “Sandy” Patil, who was one of the Indian batsmen. Mali Marshall plays his late father, the West Indian fast bowler Malcolm Marshall – a casting decision that deepened Khan’s understanding of his own project.
“With Mali, I really got that feeling that there is this whole generation now who has grown up and who wasn’t aware of exactly what happened, and that’s the generation I have to tell the story for,” Khan said. “When I first narrated the story to him, he was shocked, because growing up they knew that ‘Kapil and his Devils’ had won the World Cup, but they didn’t realise that they were such underdogs. Today when you say ‘cricketer in India’ you think Ferraris, you think money. You don’t realise that this team had no money and there were no superstars.”
While 83 serves up the cricket equivalent of superhero fan service – there’s even a scene where the real Dev cheers on Singh’s fictitious portrayal of himself from the stands – there is a greater meaning to this entertaining and moving film. It it not just a retelling, but a tribute to a historic tournament, capturing what the 1983 World Cup has become in the Indian consciousness: a legend to be passed down between generations.
The 2022 Indian film festival of Melbourne continues in cinemas until 20 August and is streaming online until 30 August. 83 is available to stream on Netflix in most countries, and on Disney+ Hotstar in India.


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