For many Indians of my generation, Kabir Khan’s 83 was always going to be more than just a film. The Cricket World Cup in 1983, which India won despite being one of the least favoured teams, is a history-making event and a stepping stone to the team’s subsequent triumphs.
Khan smartly milks (dry) the emotions and drama of the tournament. While focussing on captain Kapil Dev (played by Ranveer Singh), Khan successfully humanises the other players and gives each of them their moment under the sun. Although some bits are undoubtedly cheesy and melodramatic, the movie is overall a solid crowd pleaser with numerous moist-eyed moments. Niggles with plot points, character arcs and cause and effect are transcended – and how. 83 proves that nostalgia done right overrides everything else.
83 is special for me for another reason. I was at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London when we won the final. The World Cup was held in England between June 9 and June 25, 1983. I was in England between June 12 and July 3, and watched all the matches held in London.
It was my first trip out of India. I was 14, and cricket crazy at the time. The trip was nothing short of a pilgrimage.
My co-traveller was an employee of the Tata group and a colleague of my father’s. Prakash Palekar, who has sadly passed away, was well-known in Bombay cricketing circles. He had been a liaison officer for several international cricket teams visiting the city during their tours of India.
In fact, Palekar had tipped me off that Gary Sobers would be in Bombay. This was either in 1986 or 1987. I bunked college that day and went to Wankhede Stadium to get myself photographed with arguably the greatest ever cricketer. Thanks to Palekar’s acquaintance with Raj Singh Dungarpur, I later got autographs of the Indian cricketers during the World Cup as well as some of the Australian players.
Paleker had a letter from the Indian cricket board for two complementary passes for every match played in London. So it was odd that the film 83 has a scene in which the team manager is initially denied a pass to enter Lord’s.
I watched the matches held in London from June 12 onwards, including the two played by India. Both of them were against the West Indies – the match we lost at the Oval thanks to Vivian Richards’s sublime 119 and the final.
The memories of the first match are hazy. It was the Pakistan-England encounter at Lord’s on June 13, 1983. The one incident I do recall clearly was Pakistan captain Imran Khan getting run out.
On June 18, Palekar and I were at Lord’s watching the Australia-West Indies encounter. Three other matches were being played that day, including India versus Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells. The spectators around the ground roared with laughter when it was announced that India were 17 for 5 against Zimbabwe. The Indian supporters sat in stunned silence. We found it difficult to concentrate on the match in front of us for quite a while.
When it was later announced that India had recovered to 266-8, with Kapil Dev making a stupendous 175 not out, there was a hushed silence from the crowd. The Indian contingent was all smiles as we applauded the Indian fightback.
Though I was at at The Oval for the semi-finals between Pakistan and West Indies, I can’t really say that I saw that match. Most of the Indians seated in the pavilion section were at the pavilion bar – the adults with their pints and me with my Coca Colas – watching the television broadcast of the Indians playing England in the other semis.
Though Richards obliged with another stylish, match-winning knock of 80 not out, booting Pakistan out of the tournament, I saw only a little of it. My cheers were reserved for Mohinder Amarnath, Yashpal Sharma and the final blitz by Sandeep Patil that helped India overtake England’s score of 213 and enter the finals.
As far as I can remember, there was no hostility against the Indians who cheered Kapil Dev’s men against the domestic team. But then we were amongst a crowd that treated cricket as a gentleman’s game.
The highest point was, of course, June 25, 1983 – the day India was crowned world champions. 83 revivified so many of those exhilarating moments – the disappointment of Sunil Gavaskar’s early dismissal, the worry that 183 was too small a total to defend, the feeling that the match was lost to us when Vivian Richards stroked his way to a belligerent 33.
And then the joy of Kapil Dev taking the catch offered by Richards that turned around the match! Never was the saying “Catches win matches” truer.
As India pushed for victory, reducing the Windies to 76-6, the seventh-wicket partnership of 43 developing between Jeffrey Dujon and Malcolm Marshall compelled me to leave the stadium and catch some air. I visited the cricket souvenir shop at Lord’s, where I bought a glass ashtray (the maid broke it during cleaning some years later). When I returned to the stadium, Mohinder Amarnath had bowled out Dujon, who banged the pitch in despair (also shown in the film).
It’s difficult to describe the emotions I felt when the umpire’s finger went up declaring Michael Holding out, leaving the West Indies 140 all out and India victorious by 43 runs. I joined the rapturous crowd in charging onto the ground. I stayed there to see Kapil Dev lift the World Cup Trophy at the Lord’s balcony.
I still find it hard to believe I was a witness to a defining moment in Indian sporting history. It feels overwhelming even today. To solemnise the occasion, I took a little mud from the Lord’s pitch and carefully wrapped it in my handkerchief to bring back home.
The journey didn’t end at Lord’s. I returned to India on the same Air India flight as the victorious team. I didn’t meet any of the players – Palekar and I were seated at the back of the plane.
However, the flight was dramatic for other reasons. As Palekar was travelling on a complementary ticket (his wife was an employee of Air India) and the flight was overbooked, Palekar nearly didn’t board at London. I was taken in by the Air India staff as an unaccompanied minor. Palekar gave Sunil Gavaskar a note to look after me.
Fortunately, Palekar made the flight, only to be threatened with offloading at the stopover in Rome. Pleading that he was with a 14 year-old, he was allowed to fly on home. So the note for Sunny Gavaskar was never needed.
The scenes at the Bombay airport, with huge welcoming crowds greeting the cricketers, were unlike anything any of us had seen. And why not? After all, the players had brought the World Cup back with them.
That too at an odds of 100 to 1 before the World Cup – or so we were told. I remember my father asking one of his friends in London to put money on India but he laughed it off, saying he didn’t want to waste my father’s money.
Any disappointments after watching 83? Yes – that nobody was cast in my role in the film. I would have liked to see the 14-year old boy who ran onto the pitch and brought back the mud from Lord’s. Only to have his mother find the mud in his luggage, wonder what the hell it was, and throw it away. The teenager would have made a welcome recurring character in 83, I think.