Grimness evades the essence of this quasi-horror film recalling the disquieting ugliness caught wholly in Kieslowski’s A Short film about Killing, a haunting tale about the dreads of capital punishment. Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s 2001 film Shadow Kill examines the story of an executioner (Oduvil Unnikrishnan) in British colonial India suffering from the insurmountable crises of guilt, loyalty and death. Rituals dominate in what is an exercise in non-linear subjectivity as the story of the servile executioner collides with the swadeshi politics of his son, a Gandhi convert. One such ritual is the physical and symbolic entity of the rope, politicising the narrative with a multiplicity, framing the creation of the rope by prisoners, and later appropriated for superstitious intents by the executioner as a kind of religious science. The film enters a terrifying domain in the last third when a jailer tells the story of the rape of a young girl, filtered through the horrific imaginings of the executioner, culminating in the suggestion the boy about to be hanged is in fact innocent. Gopalakrishnan is a master at evoking and sustaining mood, an authorial instinct which he has repeatedly returned to in many of his best films. While melodrama is a salient genre marker, horror seems almost an unlikely category until you recognise the iconography of death lingers portentously throughout this primordial tale of woe.
1983 begins with a montage revelling India’s 1983 world cup victory at Lords, a visible moment in Indian postcolonial history, imbuing the 1983 team with an inimitable political symbolism that remains seminal for Indian cricket fans. Sports films often function through the endless spectator pleasures of catharsis. The success of Lagaan initiated a transitory cycle of cricket based sports film, many of them mildly successful. I really did think by now that the Indian cricket film would be a rich little sub-genre unto itself. It is possibly an underdeveloped, dormant sub-genre occasionally producing some curious flourishes. 1983 is set in a small village in Kerala, focusing on a tight knit group of friends who spend their days and nights dreaming about cricket. Rameshan (Nivin Pauly is great in the lead role), a cricket fanatic, and Sachin disciple, dreams of playing professionally but transcending the antediluvian feelings of the village and his family towards cricket, as merely a distraction becomes an intolerable trial. As Rameshan grows older, Sachin Tendulkar replaces the victory of 1983 as a new icon of hope. Eventually, Rameshan lives out his dreams of cricket through his son who is selected for the under 14-district team.
The journey Malayalam director Abrid Shine maps is a maudlin one, abjuring the feelings of male impotency fostered by Fellini in his 1953 film I Vitelloni (1953). Exploring a situation in which Rameshan’s talents go unrecognised points to the way cricket as a hegemonic sport is controlled by an affluent, urban middle class. A dialogue between the rural and the urban when it comes to cricket as a sport that should be accessible to all (Shine stops short of politicising the narrative by turning it into a class struggle) becomes much more pertinent in the final third and while Shine strives for a sort of fantasy wish fulfilment with the unreal ending, an essential catharsis supervenes, chiefly derivative of the sub-genre. Shine brings together engineering (Rameshan invents his own cricket ball throwing machine to help his son improve his batting skills) and cricket into a productive, reciprocal national equation, arguing a co existence between education and sport strengthens rather than fragments. Since cricket is the lifeblood of India, standing in as a metonym for the nation, the ideological decision to focus on a village in Kerala re-balances the way sport is monopolised by an elite, but ultimately remains with the millions of people who play the sport on a daily basis. The film, strikingly shot by DOP Pradeesh Varma, is just one of many creative details why 1983 is a compelling feel good tale about cricket. If you are fan of cricket you will certainly not be disappointed.