I did it! I watched ’83! And I spent the whole time feeling like they are expecting me to have WAY more knowledge of Cricket than I actually have. Also, interest in.
If you really like sports movies, then this movie gets good about an hour and 15 minutes in. Nice tension in the game moments, fun little banter in between, clear structure, clear stakes, all of that good sports movie things. If you sort of like sports movies, don’t bother. If you aren’t interested in sports movies, don’t bother. If you obsessively care about every detail of the ’83 world cup, you may actually enjoy the whole film. But otherwise, AT THE MOST, just watch the last half. It’s really not a well-made movie.
The irritating thing is, it is both well-made and not well-made simultaneously. It’s well-made in that the period sets and costumes and wigs are perfection, it’s an exact replica in every way. It’s not well-made in that there is no narrative drive! If only they had taken this insane attention to detail and put that same amount of energy towards figuring out the script.
This is a great story! The team no one thought would win, who lost their practice matches, comes from nowhere and wins the whole thing! We should feel the joy, the tension, the growing excitement, and so on and so forth. But instead, NOTHING. Like the filmmakers didn’t even bother giving us character stakes, or establishing the impossibility, because we are supposed to already know it. Even down to simple things, we keep hearing about “Lala” and how one player is afraid of him and it’s not until way WAAAAAY later in the film that I figure out “Lala” is his father and a former Cricketer? And then I’m able to google the rest of the story and learn that the son of the first Indian Team Captain was on the ’83 team. So this is a whole meaningful thing about a successful father who overshadowed his son, and now his son can fulfill his dreams. Only I didn’t know ANY of that because it’s not spelled out in the film, we are just supposed to understand it.
I can’t speak to how this film would work if I did know all those details, but I think as a film, it is flawed if it only works with the details. Like, there would be a way to make this movie where you recap and give us that backstory and then it is a little boring for the people who already know stuff but at least it is more universal. Or, the best way, would be to make a movie that has enough narrative drive to work no matter the background knowledge folks bring with them.
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I mean, what’s to spoil? It’s the World Cup, it’s in London, the Indian team wins for the first time ever. Not just the first time to win the cup, the first time to even win a single official game in the World Cup tournament. Just a stunning upset story. And they won against the West Indies, captained by superstar Viv Richards, who seemed unstoppable.
Those broad strokes are a great story. The problem is, the film can’t decide what details deserve and don’t deserve to be filled in. Maybe it’s because there was just so MUCH available? The best sequence of the film, in terms of pacing and tension and so on, is in the middle when they come from nowhere at the last minute to win against Zimbabwe. And it was so unexpected that the game itself wasn’t even televised, just radio commentary. I think that’s why it is such a good sequence. The filmmakers weren’t trapped trying to recreate every exact moment, they could design it and show it how they wished to show it. So we skip quickly past the part where they are almost losing, add in lots of details like the captain taking a shower because he thinks it will be so long before he has to come to bat, and the conversation he has with his wife the night before, and all kinds of things that wouldn’t be in a BBC broadcast. But which are what makes a movie viewer CARE about this stuff.
There’s another moment that lands, when they are in the finals at a celebration party and one of the players starts giving a long monologue about how they were all planning to spend just a couple days playing in London and then go on to a trip to America together, but their captain Kapil Dev believed they could win the whole thing. It’s not a moment of us standing outside watching this story, it’s a moment of feeling the feeling of coming from nowhere and having this miracle life changing series of successes.
Maybe that’s the issue? The whole movie feels like we are watching from the outside, spectators, not in the hearts and minds of the players on the field. Even the filming style gives us that, there are few close ups, few monologues, even few long dialogue scenes. It’s just one line said to the camera in the mid-distance, and then a lot of action filmed like it’s a BBC sports broadcast. When we see Deepika as Kapil’s wife watching and celebrating, then I feel something. Or Kapil frustrated and yelling at the team in the locker room. But those scenes are few and far between.
I keep comparing it with Dhoni, which paid through the nose to use the actual World Cup footage for the finale. But that movie was about Dhoni. I didn’t care about winning the World Cup, I cared about seeing the success of this person I had grown to know and love. That’s a movie, that’s a movie that works no matter who is watching it.
If I had ’83 in my heart and mind already, if I knew the feeling of those spectators watching the broadcasts and was waiting to recapture it, then this film would be missing nothing. But I don’t. And so this film, for me, has nothing inside it but a ball and a stick, no heart.
(also, Neena Gupta plays Kapil Dev’s mother which is either a great inside joke, or a huge middle finger to Viv Richards. Take it either way)