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Why I will wait for a documentary on 1983 and miss the film

Films are free to invent and add and “Based On A True Story” is permission to embellish. But sometimes a powerful tale deserves no fictional contamination

Kapil Dev receiving the Prudential World Cup at Lord’s after India won the 1983 cricket World Cup final against the West Indies.
Kapil Dev receiving the Prudential World Cup at Lord’s after India won the 1983 cricket World Cup final against the West Indies. (Getty Images)

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Any discussion on 1983 must start not with The Ball, The Catch or The Shot, but with the television set.

EC-TV or Crown?

Colour? Lucky bastard.

One friend sends me a picture of the model he watched the World Cup final on. Wooden casing with a sliding door in front. As old as we all are now.

The TVs told their own stories. “This is how we were pecked in the building’s economic ladder,” says the former and sublime cricket writer Mudar Patherya, who lived in a building in Kolkata’s Mission Row.

He had a black and white one and so he crept down to his neighbour Harish Mehta’s flat. Mehta had a colour TV, a Sony, but something even better.

An open door.

In London 1983, Wimbledon was finishing its first week and Ramesh Krishnan had lost a tight five-setter 7-5, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 3-6 to Vitas Gerulaitis. Krishnan, as he remembers now, watched on a TV too, perhaps smiling when he saw The Shot because he and the one-knee, square-driving Kris Srikkanth were schoolmates in Vidya Mandir.

In Patiala, in the Dhyanchand hostel, hockey players at a national camp hollered at a black and white TV on semi-final day. India vs England is what M.M. Somaya remembers.

“We were cheering loudly at night and we didn’t realise that adjacent to the common room was where either the wrestlers or throwers were staying. Because towards the end this huge guy, bare-bodied and wrapped in a sheet, came in and pulled out the plug of the TV. There was pin-drop silence.

“Then he picked up the TV and took it away.”

Somaya can’t remember watching the final. Maybe the TV hadn’t come back.

All this nostalgia is leaking out because of a film I am never going to see. Enjoy 83, I hope it’s great, but I will politely pass. Ranveer Singh is a wonderful actor but that is precisely the issue. That summer is beyond imitation, those 17 days so personal and real that I am satisfied with the fragments of memory which remain.

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The one thing the release of 83 will do is unbolt our memory. Like pulling out one of those albums of faded photographs stuck behind cellophane. Things flood back. Youth, for instance. And what a moment in sport can mean.

We casually stamp “historic” on every modern feat but the iconic deed is rare, its weight profound. In every sport there are nations on the margin, trying to slide from competitor to contender to champion. Wanting something—a world champion tag and legitimacy in a sport—is a lovely ache and when the moment comes it is liberating. “Everyone has a chance” is an idea never truly understood until you win. That’s what I learnt from 1983.

In an interview with Gaurav Kapur in 2017, Sunil Gavaskar said, “I still can’t get over it.” He played in it, imagine us. This wasn’t Jake LaMotta, whom we never knew before, in Raging Bull. It wasn’t Chariots Of Fire, based on an Olympics which occurred before our dads were born. This moment we saw and lived, these men we might never even have met but we knew. This, for me, doesn’t need a filmi line or an ounce of exaggeration. It was enough as it was.

Films are free to invent and add and “Based On A True Story” is permission to embellish, even if future generations might think that’s exactly how an event transpired. I would defend artistic licence all day but I don’t always have to like it. Sometimes a powerful tale deserves no fictional contamination.

I hope 83, the film, is respectful and does well but really, in an era of non-fiction brilliance, what I would like to see is a documentary on that team. The Will Smith Ali film I have never watched, but When We Were Kings, the documentary on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire, is unforgettable. It won a documentary Oscar in 1996, so did Icarus in 2017 and a year later, Free Solo, the devastating chronicle of Alex Honnold’s ascent of El Capitan.

Documentaries—done well—go deep into a subject or moment, they clarify, they peel back the competitive skin, they give us peeks at people behind an image, they humanise instead of deifying. Asif Kapadia’s Senna and Diego Maradona, cricket’s Fire In Babylon, basketball’s The Last Dance, the lives of Paralympians studied in Rising Phoenix, all are imperfect, of course, and yet also the sort of esteemed company a documentary on 1983 should aspire to keep.

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There is always material out there. Kapadia told Filmmaker magazine that he found footage from an “ultra-Maradona fan in Naples” and was told by Maradona’s ex-wife, Claudia Villafañe, that there’s “stuff in the back room”, which turned out to be film. Leon Gast took 22 years to make When We Were Kings and, as The New York Times reported, as he waited for financing he lived amidst “300,000 feet of film and 100,000 feet of audio tape that he and his 40-member crew had brought back from Kinshasha, Zaire”.

Imagine the stuff about 1983 we still don’t know, all the interviews not done, all the tales untold, all the private photographs and letters, all the footage that lies in vaults unseen, all of which could be stitched into a story?

So I think I will wait for that because it has to happen.

Till then I will keep digging into everyone else’s memories. Like Rahul Dravid, who remembers he was in Indore, watching the 1983 final on TV with his cousins. His highlight at 10 years old was the ice cream that came with victory.

But not everyone watched the 1983 final. In Ahmedabad, a 22-year-old young man didn’t even have a TV at home. And anyway, as he says and we completely understand, he was simply too busy with and besotted by his own craft.

Geet Sethi was practising to win his own world championship.

Rohit Brijnath is an assistant sports editor at The Straits Times, Singapore, and a co-author of Abhinav Bindra’s book A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey To Olympic Gold.


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