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Why '83 Failed At The Box Office

By Sandeep Goyal
January 17, 2022 16:23 IST
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The film didn't offer the entertainment which everyone sought -- it was out-and-out a docu-drama, not a masala movie, notes Sandeep Goyal.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Ranveer Singh/Instagram

Frankly, I am quite surprised. '83, by my reckoning, was going to be the biggest blockbuster of 2021.

The much-awaited, much-hyped grand finale. The blockbuster that would lighten up, and liven up, the mood of a sombre year where the big screen had seen no major hits, apart from Akshay Kumar's Sooryavanshi.

The Ranveer Singh starrer earned a piffling Rs 12.64 crore on its opening day.

Its first weekend collection was recorded at a lowly Rs 47 crore despite it being a festive weekend.

More significantly, it witnessed a major dip on the first weekday as it earned Rs 7.29 crore on Monday and Rs 6.7 crore on Tuesday.

The film crawled its way to the Rs 100 crore mark, apparently, over the subsequent weekend with great difficulty.


IMAGE: Ranveer Singh with Kapil Dev and '83 Director Kabir Khan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Kabir Khan/Instagram

Marvel's Tom Holland starrer Spider-Man: No Way Home, on the other hand, had a strong opening and first-week collection.

Even in its second week, the film maintained a stronghold at the ticket counters.

The film was inching towards the Rs 200 crore mark with Rs 179.37 crore already in its kitty at the beginning of the third week.

In fact, according to Cinetrak, which provides box office updates for Indian movies, the film has earned an even higher Rs 230 crore by now.

An report meanwhile pegged the collection of Allu Arjun's Pushpa: The Rise at Rs 227 crore over the first week, till the next Monday.

So the sub-optimal performance of '83 cannot be blamed on the Omicron scare: The superlative reviews from the critics and the film industry pundits, the aggressive advertising of the movie, the top star-cast, the nostalgic theme of an epic Indian World Cup victory -- all the ingredients of success have somehow not translated into the box office numbers everyone predicted.

Movie-goers, even cricket fans, just didn't come in to see and support '83.

Except for the three metros, nowhere else were there any significant footfalls in the theatres. The movie just did not click.

So what went wrong? One of the first things I was taught when I joined advertising was to ask a simple question, 'Whom are we talking to?' It is here that '83 perhaps made its most fundamental mistake.

Those who have watched and loved '83 are mostly the generation that already knew about the ups-and-downs of the dramatic victory at the 1983 World Cup, like me.

The younger generation who don't know what transpired during the 1983 Kapil Dev campaign, perhaps wanted to watch '83 only from a filmy perspective.

And these younger folks were disappointed. Most didn't like the character development -- all the actors, including Ranveer, were trying to ape the victorious team without the players being as familiar as director Kabir Khan had pre-supposed.

The film didn't offer the unfettered entertainment which everyone sought -- it was out-and-out a docu-drama, not a masala movie.

'83 is a story being narrated to those who already know the story. And that is what failed the film.

My daughter accompanied me to see '83. While I thoroughly enjoyed the filmy replay of all I had seen on the lone television set in my crowded hostel common room nearly four decades ago, my daughter struggled to identify Mohinder Amarnath, Madan Lal, Yashpal Sharma and Roger Binny, while constantly wanting to know who Lala Amarnath was, and why everyone was so fearful of him.

IMAGE: Kapil Dev, captain of the 1983 World Cup winning team, with Ranveer Singh who plays him in '83. Photograph: Kind courtesy Kabir Khan/Instagram

Another dimension to the 'Whom are we talking to?' question invariably today is whether you are talking to India or to Bharat.

One of '83's biggest criticisms has been that it is 'smart' content written for multiplex audiences, not massy Bharat.

A good cricket match to Bharat was Lagaan, even without the legend of Kapil Dev.

The rest of the team laughing at Kapil Dev's limited abilities in the English language may have been fun to city slickers, but elsewhere, especially in Bharat, it did not tickle any funny bone.

IMAGE: Kapil Dev, who Ranveer Singh plays in the film, seemed very happy to meet the actor. Photograph: PTI Photo

'83 is the director's ode to cricket, its innate power to move and excite.

The sport and its glory are given central attention in this 163-minute film. For that at least, Kabir Khan cannot be faulted.

In Kapil Dev, the film has a strong protagonist played beautifully by Ranveer: A nervous captain who ends up as a gritty, master-strategist.

But the film lacks an antagonist -- the World Champions West Indies actually have a lot of swagger and verve, and are more the hero's heroes, rather than villains.

Last but not the least, except Pankaj Tripathi as the team manager who blossoms in the role, the rest of the team are mere paper cut-outs of past icons: A chain-smoking loud-mouth Srikkanth, a petulant Gavaskar, a bumbling Balwinder ...

Lessons? First, you can't make a classy film on a massy theme.

Second, everyone may not know and empathise with a past narrative.

Third, humour is not universal. Caricaturing Kapil's English may not have been funny for everyone.

Last, a film without a villain rarely succeeds.

Sandeep Goyal is managing director, Rediffusion

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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