After he saw the final version of his new sports film 83 for the first time in Jeddah last week, Bollywood star Ranveer Singh says he was overcome with emotion.
“When the lights came on, there were tears streaming down my eyes,” he tells The National. “It was as if I’ve just come out of a trance.
“The finished product is so powerful. I knew I was in a great film, but I didn’t realise it would hit me so hard.”
Directed by Kabir Khan, the man behind record-breaking Bollywood hits Ek Tha Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, 83 is a retelling of India’s first cricket World Cup win in 1983. The film had its world premiere at the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival last Wednesday.
Singh, one of the highest-paid actors in Bollywood, is hoping audiences will feel the same way he felt at the screening, when the long-delayed film finally releases on Thursday.
“It’s a great piece of cinematic work, if I should say so myself. What I experienced watching it with an audience for the first time, sitting in that hall, where people were laughing, crying and standing up and cheering… it was overwhelming,” he says.
Announced in 2017, production for 83 began in early 2019 and wrapped up later that year, only for Covid-19 to halt its anticipated release many times. Distributors have been patiently waiting as theatres gradually reopen, foreseeing the film’s wide appeal in cricket-obsessed India.
“This movie is for everyone, but if you’re a cricket fan, you’ll be on a whole trip,” Singh, who plays former Indian captain Kapil Dev, says.
The actor, 36, whose acclaimed 2019 film Gully Boy was India’s official entry to the Oscars, says he was blown away when he first read the script.
“It’s one of the best screenplays I’ve ever heard in my entire career,” he says. “If there was ever a story that needs to be told, then this is it.
“We know only about the historic victory. But when I heard about where they started and how they got to the finals, my mind was blown to bits. And Kabir sir was kind enough to tell me he only saw me as Kapil Dev, and offered me the role.”
Khan, who is also credited as co-writer, says he first came across the story four years ago.
“I remember reading the material on a plane and by the end of it I had a lump in my throat,” he says. “I’ve always followed sports, but I wouldn’t call myself a cricket buff. That’s why I thought maybe I was the best person for the job. Because what we really wanted to do was make it a human story. It really is the story of the underdog.”
Actress Deepika Padukone, who married Singh in 2018, also plays his on-screen wife in the film, portraying Romi Bhatia.
Padukone, 35, is one of the most successful actresses in Bollywood and made her Hollywood debut in 2017 with Vin Diesel film xXx: Return of Xander Cage.
The daughter of former Indian badminton champion Prakash Padukone, she says 83 is a film close to her heart, because it not only recounts a historic event, but also celebrates the women behind the sporting heroes.
“I’ve seen my mother play the same role in my father’s life,” Padukone said at a press event in Dubai last week. “The film honours the women who put their husbands and families before their own [lives].”
Known for her activism for mental health and women’s empowerment, Padukone, who is also credited as producer in 83, says she brought the female perspective to the table.
“My role as producer was to try and add value creatively,” she tells The National. “There’s already an incredible vision, but I wanted to bring in a different perspective, about what the women in the lives of these men were going through, and to bring in that emotion.”
Padukone says she had a first-hand experience of the sacrifices the wives of sporting heroes often make.
“My mum wanted to live a different kind of life in a different part of the world. But because of my father’s profession, she had to be here for him,” she says.
“I remember being told that as soon as they got married, they had to move to Copenhagen, which was completely alien to both of them. They were newly married and she’d never been outside of India. Moreover, she was working then and had to give up her job and move with him to set up this new life they were embarking on.
“Even the day after I was born, dad had to leave for a tour to Hong Kong and only came back after three months. So there were a lot of instances where she had to take charge of the family and the home because he was off achieving his dreams.”
Besides Singh and Padukone, 83 also features a number of acclaimed actors, including Pankaj Tripathi, Neena Gupta, Boman Irani, Saqib Saleem and Tahir Raj Bhasin.
The children of cricketers who played in the 1983 World Cup matches have also been cast in minor roles, including actor Chirag Patil, son of India’s Sandeep Patil, as well as Carl Greenidge and Mali Marshall, the sons of West Indies players Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall, who will portray their fathers in the film. Former West Indies captain Clive Llyod’s son, Jason Llyod, has also been cast as fast bowler Joel Garner, while Amiya Dev, the daughter of Indian captain Dev and Bhatia, is credited as assistant director for the film.
“It’s a big basket of nepotism,” Khan joked at the Dubai event.
'83' is out in UAE cinemas on Thursday, December 23
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures from the world premiere of '83' at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah: