After the failure of Tubelight earlier this year, it was expected of director Kabir Khan to lie low. The film’s debacle was critical for Kabir, not just from the perspective of it being a superstar-led vehicle (Salman Khan, who seldom fails at the box-office), but also because it was second in the row for the filmmaker, following the dismal performance of his 2015 thriller Phantom.
But in September, only two months after Tubelight’s release, Kabir, evidently unfazed by the recent career lows, announced his collaboration with Phantom Films on the biopic of the 1983 Indian cricket team that brought home the first ever World Cup trophy, a film that by the virtue of its subject itself sounds like the director’s most-ambitious project yet. In a conversation with indianexpress.com, Kabir shares what gets him excited about 83, the story of which is already in public domain, and why he believes actor Ranveer Singh is the perfect choice to do a Kapil Dev.
Q. How is the preparation going on for 83?
Kabir: It’s (in) early days because we are months away from the shoot but it’s a project that needs that kind of prep. It’s a mammoth project. A part of me just wants to know this beautiful story I have ever heard. It also needs that kind of scale and research. We are dealing with a well-documented historic event, we are dealing with people, who are living legends and icons, and we are portraying all this on screen. So, we need to do our homework. We need to get everything correct, in terms of the portrayals, the depictions, the casting, the locations…
Q. Are you feeling the pressure? At the launch of the film, (where the 1983 team was honoured by the movie’s core team), hearing the cricketers narrate anecdotes, in their respective signature styles, it felt that making this movie is going to be a challenge for you.
Kabir: But I don’t see it like that. As I was listening to them, I was getting happier. For me, it is a goldmine of material. Entertaining material attracts a filmmaker to a story. Like I said that day on the stage, that if I release the video of these people speaking, it will be a superhit. So, no (there’s no pressure). For me, it’s very important to enjoy the process of making films. I never take the pressure of ‘Oh my God! This is such a big responsibility.’ I am excited about the process of filmmaking. And 83 got me excited like no other film. As everybody noticed that day, there was something special happening there on stage. There was something very special about the journey that they went through. We know bits and pieces of it. Now, of course, I probably know much more than what the rest of the world knows now.
I realise that it’s an untold story, despite the fact a lot has been spoken about it. We really don’t know the story. What was happening behind the scenes? There was this bunch of boys, it was a really young team, most of them were in their early 20s. The captain was 24. It was a bunch of underdogs, completely written-off by everybody to maybe not even proceed to round two, and this bunch grew and went on to do what it did. So, it’s an unbelievable story of human triumph. I often say that a sports film is never about the sports. It’s about the spirit of the people involved. In this case, it’s unbelievable.
Q. You are one of the directors, who pick something that’s larger-than-life and find a human story in it.
Kabir: You are absolutely right about that. What gets to me is that yes, of course, there is a larger-than-life backdrop, which is very exciting, because in today’s cinema, we do need to deal with scale and spectacle but at the heart of it, there are always emotions and how people are dealing with each other, how they are pulling each other up, how they rally behind each other and rise to the occasion.
Q. Also, politics is an essential element in your every film. But will it be absent from 83 (which primarily is a sports story)?
Kabir: There will always be politics in my films. It’s (83) something, which has politics. Like I said, it’s not about the sport, it’s actually not just coming of age of the team, it’s coming of age of the country. What was happening with the diaspora, the South-Asian diaspora in London, for the first time, started feeling proud, that ‘Hey, we are world champions.’
There were incidents that we will be showing in our film that have nothing to do with the stadium, things that were happening outside, things that were happening in India and how that everything was being directly affected by what was happening in the stadium. It’s a story of coming of age of a nation.
Q. You have a knack of taking a star and giving him something that nobody would expect him to do. Bajrangi Bhaijaan had Salman Khan do something that audiences had never seen him do before. With Ranveer Singh also, we would have never thought of him as Kapil Dev. Even on stage (at the film’s launch), we could see that their energies were poles apart, the way they stand and talk. How did you think of Ranveer?
Kabir: So for me, I never look at stars as stars. I look at them individually and what’s it in them that I can use to fit one of my characters. I have known Ranveer before he became an actor. I know him since the time when he used to roam around with an album of his own pictures to show it to anybody who cared to see it! And he has not changed. That energy of his has not changed, which is a beautiful thing. True, he is a big star today but his boyish charm is still intact.
I always saw Kapil in him. I knew that if among the younger stars, I had to choose someone to play Kapil, it was Ranveer because he has that robustness, the physicality, the energy, which if properly channelised will reflect the energy that a 24-year-old Kapil had. We also have to realise that we know Kapil today for what he is but we have to show what he was then- the fiery Kapil that was in 1983, with that burning ambition and determination to win the world cup. Everyone said that he was the only who believed (in the team’s victory) and kept saying, ‘No. We are not here to party, we are here to win,’ and how he led from the front. I see the same hunger in Ranveer.
Q. As an audience, I have seen restrain in Kapil’s body language and the way he talks, and it’s difficult to imagine Ranveer emulating that. Did it occur to you that Ranveer will have to work really hard to perfect that?
Kabir: No. Ranveer is an actor. Ranveer Singh, the individual, is different from Ranveer Singh, who will be on screen as Kapil Dev. He will do on screen, what is required of him to become Kapil Dev. That’s why he is a performer. The same Ranveer, who is jumping all over the place, has also given us a Bajirao Mastani portrayal, which was quite controlled and restrained. Every performer, at the end of the day, just gets into the skin of the character and portray it, close to what it should be. I think Ranveer has that ability.