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Interview Hindi

Wanted to play myself in 83, says Syed Kirmani

The former India wicketkeeper shares his thoughts on Kabir Khan's film on India's maiden World Cup victory and how he and his teammates helped the cast and crew get it right.

Sahil Khattar and Syed Kirmani

Keyur Seta

Among the 12 Indian cricketers depicted in Kabir Khan’s period sports drama 83, which seeks to recreate India's landmark 1983 World Cup victory, is wicketkeeper-batsman Syed Kirmani. The sportsman has been portrayed by Sahil Khattar.

In a chat with Cinestaan, Kirmani said that he always wanted a film to be made about the time when India, led by Kapil Dev, had its first World Cup victory. “We were seeing biopics on the likes of Saina Nehwal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, etc. So I thought why shouldn’t there be a film on us too? After all, we created history. It was most unexpected. Even we didn’t know where we were headed. We were called the underdogs because we were the fourth weakest team in the competition,” he said.

He added, “I kept saying that there should be a film on us too. And somehow, this reached the ears of Kabir Khan. I was delighted to know that whatever we achieved would be seen on the screen.” 

Kirmani was not familiar with Kabir Khan when he heard he was going to direct the film. “I searched who he was and came to know he is one of the most popular directors and has worked with Salman [Khan], Shah Rukh [Khan] and other top Bollywood stars. So I was sure he would do a great job,” he said. 

Syed Kirmani and Sahil Khattar

The makers took the help of a few players who were a part of the 1983 squad to get it right. “Kapil [Dev], Mohinder [Amarnath], the late Yashpal [Sharma] and yours sincerely were called to talk to the actors. They had seen the recordings of all the matches after they got the footage from BBC. They observed all our mannerisms and practised for three to four months in an academy,” he said. 

Obviously, Kirmani spent a lot of time with Sahil Khattar since he was playing his character. “I was called to show Sahil how I sit [behind the stumps], walk, appeal, stump, etc,” he said. “I also showed him how I roll. I also shared some anecdotes. I used to meet him regularly. Whenever he was in doubt, he would call me up. Balwinder Singh Sandhu was the coach of the actors. He trained them well.” 

Although Kirmani was happy with Khattar's casting, he was eager to play his own character in the film. “I have done a small role earlier [in the romantic drama Kabhie Ajnabi The, 1984]. I have the acting ability. I told Kabir Khan I would play my own [role]. He explained it to me that if there is any controversy, we wouldn’t like it if anyone were to point a finger at me. He said that’s why they have got these up and coming actors to do the job. And [in case any controversy were to occur], it will fall on them, not me. I said, okay. That’s how we agreed,” he said. 

Sahil Khattar and Syed Kirmani share a light moment before the media interaction

The veteran sportsman is impressed with the effort taken by the unit. “They went on each and every ground in England where we won,” he said. “The kind of hard work they did was amazing. They sweated it out. And Kabir Khan being one of the topmost directors of Bollywood, you can imagine how he went after them.”

Kirmani hasn’t seen the film yet but he was overwhelmed when he saw the trailer recently. “Something went down my spine. I got emotional thinking how the actual film would be if the trailer is such! It went viral like wildfire. I kept getting messages from my fans. I don’t know how they got my number [laughs],” he said. 

But amidst this excitement, the cricketer misses Yashpal Sharma, who succumbed to a heart attack in July this year.  “All of us went very emotional. Whenever we read his name, we get emotional. He was such a catalyst for the team. He was instrumental in all the matches actually as an all-rounder,” he said. Jatin Sarna, known for his role as Bunty in Sacred Games, has played Yashpal Sharma, who had been involved with the project until his tragic demise.

Sahil Khattar as Syed Kirmani in 83

One of the biggest highlights of 83 is India’s match against Zimbabwe in which they fought back after registering a score of 17 for five. It was then that Kapil Dev rescued the team by scoring 175 not out. But it was Kirmani who gave him constant support to ensure that the team didn’t get all out and reached a good total of 266. 

Unfortunately, the match was neither telecast nor recorded because BBC, the official broadcaster, went on strike that day. They chose this match because it wasn’t considered important. Kirmani confirmed that this match is recreated in the film. 

Recalling the match, Kirmani said, “You and those who would read this interview won’t believe that normally I didn’t get to bat. The team never considered me as an all-rounder. I was only considered a wicketkeeper. There were seven all-rounders in the team. I used to bat only after them.”

Hence, Kirmani was sure he wouldn’t get a chance to bat and was relaxing in the dressing room when India went on to bat. “Sitting in a towel after warm-up, I was preparing myself for a good breakfast. Just then one player shouted, 'Hey Kiri, pad up'. Normally, we pull each other’s legs, so I ignored him. But then I heard another similar shout. I tried searching for the scoreboard on the ground with toast in my mouth. My eyes popped out when I saw it was 17 for five. The toast fell and so did the towel. Thankfully, nobody saw. I went in at 140 for eight,” he said. 

Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev during the recreation of India's match against Zimbabwe

It was vital for India to win the match in order to move to the next round. “I told Kaps that we were in a do-or-die situation,” recalled Kirmani. “Even if we go down, we will give our all. I told Kapil, who was batting on 50 plus, that I would give him strike and he shouldn’t play those balls, he should hit them. The kind of innings I saw from the other end, I haven’t seen again to date. Now I want to see that on the screen.” 

Like fans, Kirmani recalled how players also get superstitious in desperate situations and remain frozen wherever they are. “When my partnership with Kapil was underway, the team manager Man Singh [who is essayed by Pankaj Tripathi in the film] said, ‘Nobody will move’. [Krishnamachari] Srikkanth was sitting with his wife under a tree and smoking one cigarette after another. At one point, he wanted to go to the toilet. But Man Singh disallowed him, saying, ‘Do it there itself,’” said Kirmani laughing. 

Asked what are his expectations from 83 at the box office, Kirmani instantly said, “From what we have heard from people from Bollywood, it is going to be a blockbuster.” 

Starring Ranveer Singh as Kapil Dev, 83 will be released in theatres on 24 December.