By Anindita Acharya
Public relations professional Ranajit Dey is not a cricket fan. Yet he watched director Kabir Khan’s sports drama 83 twice in a Kolkata multiplex. Both times, he came out of the theatre as a fan of both Ranveer Singh and Kapil Dev.
Many of those who have watched 83, an account of India’s legendary Cricket World Cup victory in London in 1983, are calling it the best sports film to have come out of Bollywood in recent times. But not even diehard Indian cricket fans have gone to theatres to support it, making 83 one of the biggest flops in recent Indian box-office history. The much-anticipated sports film, made on a budget of Rs 260-280 crore, struggled to cross the Rs 100-crore mark at the end of the third week.
And yet, 83 seemingly had everything going for it. A strong cast, positive advance reviews, an emotionally charged script, and a release date that almost never fails. Having released on Christmas Day, the film had the advantage of the holiday week to follow, and New Year’s Day, which have traditionally proven extremely lucrative for the movie industry.
Instead, audiences found more viable alternatives in the Telugu film Pushpa: The Rise and the Hollywood blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home, which released a week earlier. Just for a quick comparison, Spider-Man: No Way Home had grossed Rs 174.92 crore by its second weekend, while Pushpa, starring Telugu sensation Allu Arjun, ran up approximately Rs 200 crore by the second week.
So, do we blame the Omicron scare or the Pushpa craze for the epic loss of Ranveer’s 83? Kolkata-based exhibitor and distributor Satadeep Saha, also CEO of SSR Cinemas, does not agree that either Allu Arjun’s masala outing or Omicron had a role to play in 83’s abysmal performance. “If Omicron was to blame, how did audiences watch Pushpa, Spiderman and (Bengali film) Tonic in theatres? These films have a mass connect. If people wanted to watch 83, they would have, but 83 failed to connect with the majority. I believe the docu-style narrative put viewers off,” he said.
Yet for a viewer like Ranajit, it’s the documentary-like filmmaking of Kabir Khan which appeals the most. “It is the best sports film ever made in Indian cinema. Kabir Khan left no space for fluff and does a great job in recreating the World Cup victory,” said Ranajit, who has himself made a short film titled Ebong Aami.
As for reviews, the very positive ones that 83 received did not convert into business. Veteran film trade analyst Taran Adarsh said that despite getting open weeks during the holidays, 83 failed to score beyond the metros. In the smaller centres, the film did not find any acceptance. Whereas Pushpa bulldozed past Omicron fears and tough opponents like Spider-Man and 83 with minimal promotion and limited shows.
“#83TheFilm hits 100 cr… Ideally, the film should’ve hit century by Weekend 2 itself [#Christmas + #NewYear holidays], but the non-acceptance beyond metros proved a roadblock… [Week 3] Fri 80 lacs, Sat 1.29 cr, Sun 1.47 cr. Total: ₹ 100.56 cr. #India biz. ALL VERSIONS,” Adarsh tweeted.
The Hindi version of Pushpa, too, has cruised past the Rs 100-crore mark. Calling Pushpa a one-horse race, the Bollywood trade pundit said that Pushpa’s box-office performance ought to be a case study. “Pushpa is a one-horse race. It proves yet again, well-made mass entertainers remain the number one genre in India,” Adarsh said. He adds to that the examples of Rohit Shetty’s cop drama Sooryavanshi and Pushpa Hindi, which have revived the business of cinema in tier-2 and tier-3 centres in pandemic times.
Young Bengali producer Animesh Ganguly, with films like Sweater and Abar Bochhor Kuri Pore to his credit, says there are enough elements in 83 to strike a chord with younger audiences. “I agree that those who witnessed the World Cup victory in 1983 will relive that experience, but I, too, enjoyed the euphoria. I wasn’t even born then. But I have heard of Kapil Dev in my childhood and now, I am a bigger fan. There are many scenes which will bring tears to your eyes and also fill you with pride. 83 is a rare gem that shouldn’t be missed. I watched it with my friends,” he said.
Some viewers are of the opinion that unlike other popular sports films such as Chak De India, Dangal, Sultan, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag or MS Dhoni, 83 does not have a strong soundtrack. Many also believe that 83 didn’t come across as a ‘team’ film, which wasn’t the case with Lagaan or Chak De India, for instance. Though 83 features 15 players, most young viewers today are only familiar with Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, but not Balwinder Sandhu, Madan Lal or Kirti Azad, so the youth have not found heroes in them. Also, the personal stories in Lagaan, Dangal, or MS Dhoni added drama to the script, which perhaps isn’t the case with 83.
Dejectedly, Ranajit says, “It is clear that today, audiences do not want refined content when they go to theatres. They want to watch larger-than-life characters. But I believe 83 is like fine wine. Audiences will understand its true worth with time, just like Silsila.”