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Interview Hindi

Lack of hair worked in my favour, says Sahil Khattar on playing Syed Kirmani in 83

Actor and funnyman Khattar shares insights into the making of the Kabir Khan film and discusses how he prepared for his role as the great India wicket-keeper.

Sahil Khattar

Keyur Seta

Sahil Khattar plays former India wicket-keeper Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani in Kabir Khan’s keenly awaited film 83 based on India’s first cricket World Cup triumph in 1983.

But when the film was offered to Khattar, he was wary of taking it up as he would be sharing screen space with as many as 13 other actors playing different members of Team India.

“I wondered if everyone would get equal footage and whether I would be able to shine,” Khattar told Cinestaan.com. “But then I looked at my hairstyle and realized this is definitely going to shine. There was no doubt (laughs).”

When Khattar studied the character he was to portray, he got more convinced than ever that he should do the role. “I realized that he is quirky, funny, athletic and so good with his wicket-keeping; he was the best wicket-keeper in the world in his time. So I thought I just want to play this role and was excited to shoot,” he said.

Of course, Khattar’s appearance did play a part. “What really worked in my favour is that I look like Kirmani sir’s twin,” he remarked. “For example, sometimes you can’t differentiate between [the dishes] paneer lababdar and paneer butter masala (laughs). My lack of hairstyle or being follically challenged worked in my favour.”

Khattar is known for his antics on his YouTube channel and his anchoring skills. He has also been playing cricket for a long time and is well-versed with the game.

SMH Kirmani and Sahil Khattar at the media interaction

“But we all are into batting and bowling; wicket-keeping is an alien skill," the actor said. "I understood that skill and learnt under the coach. For example, qualities like diving catches, the nature of a wicket-keeper, his posture, keeping an eye on the field, etc, was a big deal. Kirmani sir also taught me a lot about his glove work and footwork and how he used to appeal, speak to the bowlers and captain, warm up.”

Khattar realized his training had gone off really well when shooting a portion of the final match of the World Cup against the West Indies. “Taking the catch of [Faoud] Bacchus in the final against the West Indies was shot in just one take! There was no bigger achievement for me than this! I was surprised as to how did it happen. So the team made me see the shot in slow motion. They were like, how did you question our training?” he said with a laugh. 

Khattar was seen as a menacing villain earlier this year in Zee5’s web-film 200: Halla Ho (2021). At the time of the film's trailer launch, he had said that it was quite a task to go into that character and he had to go through another process to come out of it.

“It was better this time around because of the similarities between Kiribhai’s personality and mine,” he said. “I have played roller hockey and won the bronze for India at the Asian Games. Hence, sports weren’t something out of my system. So getting into the character this time was easier.”

Syed Kirmani and Sahil Khattar

He joked, “Any character who doesn’t kill people is easier to get into. Nobody has that experience (laughs). I had to appear like a crazy serial killer [in 200]. That’s why it was time-consuming to get into that character and then come out of it. It’s just that it required training to get into this character when it came to playing cricket and wicket-keeping.”

Interacting with Kirmani over time, Khattar felt he was like his father. “The biggest compliment was that when he [Kirmani] came on to the field and saw me for the first time, he came to me and said, ‘Arre, Kiribhai!’ It reminded me of that Spider-Man meme,” he said.

83 is the first time Kabir Khan has made a film on sports. But for Khattar this wasn't an issue. “He is a master storyteller," he said. "He has made such good content all throughout his journey. That’s why he is one of the top filmmakers in the country. So it doesn’t matter whether the film is about cricket, hockey, mountaineering or a family drama. A storyteller is someone who makes a magnum opus out of any story.”

Sharing his personal experience with Khan, he said, “We had a good rapport because he is from Delhi and I am from Chandigarh. There was this northern connection. A lot of people don’t know that he is actually very funny. I do funny stuff for a living, so if I am saying it, you should believe it. He used to enjoy doing fun stuff with me and vice versa.”

83 also features India’s epic match against Zimbabwe where Kapil Dev scored 175 not out when the team was struggling at 17 for 5. Khattar believes Kirmani’s supporting contribution in his partnership with Kapil Dev played a major role in India winning the cup.

Ranveer Singh recreating Kapil Dev's innings of 175 not out against Zimbabwe

“Kudos to Kapil Dev who was hitting it continuously from the other end. And kudos to Mr Syed Kirmani, too, because he stood his ground on the other end,” he said. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think India would have reached the final. That partnership was a big thing for India.”

After shooting scenes of that particular partnership, Khattar was greeted with applause on the sets. “I realized what Mr Syed Kirmani would have felt after returning to the dressing room. That innings was special and it will come out very well in the movie. I really hope that innings gets me a place in the next IPL [Indian Premier League] auction,” he said, laughing.

Khattar is very clear about the expectations from 83. “There are no expectations because we know it will be a big hit," he said. "People don’t wait for a year and a half otherwise. It is going to be one of the top films from 'Bollywood' [commercial Hindi cinema] for sure. Even if I would have got a chance to play a tree in this film, I would have agreed.”

Also starring Deepika Padukone as Kapil Dev’s wife Romi Dev, 83 will be released in theatres on 24 December.