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A Sticky Wicket

Courtesy photo

83 (2021)

It’s no secret that jingoism plays as big a role in Bollywood as do extravagant musical numbers. Considering how often India is underestimated despite the rest of the world benefitting from its massive talent drain, it is more than entitled to toot its own horn. The film “83” recounts a specific moment of great national pride in India’s history – the Prudential Cup ’83 – when its underdog cricket team beat the odds and rivals from seven countries and became champion of the world.

The film hammers home early that the Indian team’s prognosis looked grim from the outset. Its manager, P. R. Man Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), wasn’t credentialed for Lord’s, the venue for the world cup final. Then again, Mr. Singh himself had booked the team a return flight before that last event. The West Indies team – the perennial odds-on favorite and India’s designated antagonist here – touched down at the airport in jet-setting style, while the Indian team didn’t even have its own chartered bus. No accommodations were made for players’ diets, either.

There’s hardly any exposition of the large cast of characters and their circumstances before the film immediately throws us into play-by-play, starting with India’s surprise victory over the West Indies on June 9. Up to this point, we’ve been led to believe that the Indian team would be trounced. But the screenplay, by Kabir Khan (who also directs), Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan and Vasan Bala, doesn’t explain how the lowly longshots managed to turn things around: hard work, strategy, luck, kismet or all of the above.

India followed up with another victory over Zimbabwe before suffering devastating back-to-back losses against Australia and the West Indies, on June 13 and 15 respectively. Kapil Dev (Ranveer Singh), reluctantly thrust into the role of captain, struggled to inspire the team in English. They were rattled by injuries and personal issues, but all the while enlivened by locker-room hijinks. Inexplicably, they bounced back with a miraculous winning streak over Zimbabwe, Australia, England and the mighty West Indies team between June 18 and 25.

The film presents us with many tangential anecdotes such as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (Avantika Akerkar) ordering the games be broadcast across the nation in a bid for unity, as well as the racist backlash Desis in Britain faced. Of course, there’s also that cute little kid, whose father initially didn’t think game tickets were judicious expenditures given the team’s losing streak, who ended up coming to every game with a homemade flag. All that is very nice, but has little to do with the team’s competitive trajectory, which is what moviegoers have purchased tickets to see.


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