Our Kapil Dev was on the phone. Calling for an interview from somewhere North last evening. Latish, around 7.30 o’clock. I tried to guess where. Chandigarh or New Delhi. Where the temperatures are between 13 and 15 degrees C. I pictured him there, nattily dressed for the winter, smoking a cigar and sipping a glass of wine. Today I know he is in Rajasthan. Celebrating his 61st birthday with family and friends. “Where in Rajasthan?” I curiously asked. “That is not important,” Kapil brusquely replied. Like I was going to gatecrash his party. Anticipating my next question he cleverly said, “Everyday is like a birthday, so there’s nothing special happening today.” I could imagine him grinning away sunnily as he stumped me with this statement, flashing all his big white teeth.
I have interviewed him before. On his 42nd birthday at the Frangipani fine dining restaurant at The Oberoi in Mumbai. It was 2001. He was then in the wilderness. Declared persona non grata by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the charges of match fixing. He was silently sulking and out of the public eye. Kapil had bid adieu to cricket. He had taken up golf instead. He firmly laid down some conditions. He was an early sleeper. And he had dinner at 7.30 pm. Also, he wanted to eat light. Not Indian food. “I am playing golf early tomorrow morning,” Kapil apologized. “Plus, after 40 I tend to put on weight easily. It affects my game. So I am careful about what I eat. My wife Romi says it’s best to lead a clean and simple life. Nobody can object to that.”
I reminded him about that dinner. He had expressed a fondness for blue cheese then. And drank red wine with ice and a chilled soda. Kapil has also just started smoking Cuban cigars. Now he said, “Blue cheese I still love. But a cigar I will have only once a year. It is not an every day thing.” Finding the conversation on his birthday celebrations dragging, I asked Kapil about Kabir Khan’s forthcoming sports biopic ’83 based on India’s sensational victory at Lord’s over the mighty West Indies in the 1983 World Cup. Kapil was our swashbuckling captain and the Indian team was known as Kapil’s Devils. Ranveer Singh is playing Kapil Dev in Kabir’s film and Deepika Padukone is playing the cricketer’s wife Romi Dev. He was looking forward to ’83 but he was also worried about what was shown. He didn’t want the film to be on him. The victory was a team effort.
“Are you satisfied with Kabir’s choice of Ranveer to play you in the film? How has he fared? And Deepika as your wife Romi? Isn’t it a happy coincidence that this attractive and talented actor couple is playing you both?” I asked. Kapil said, “I have not seen the film. So I don’t know. I have only seen posters. But yes, it is a matter of great pride that such big actors are playing Romi and me.” I asked Kapil who from Bollywood would he pick to step into his shoes if a biopic was being made on him. “Like Sushant Singh Rajput played Dhoni and Emraan Hashmi played Azharuddin in Bollywood sports dramas. “I don’t know,” Kapil said. “I have not given it thought. But I would not like a biopic made on me!” Had he seen M. S. Dhoni: The Untold Story and Azhar? Yes he had, Kapil admitted. Was he happy with the cricket scenes showcased by Bollywood. “Yes and no,” Kapil said mysteriously. Then suddenly he said, “But Lagaan was fabulous!”
I told Kapil when he won the World Cup for India in 1983, he had become a national hero, on par with Amitabh Bachchan. And since then, cricket and cinema had been driving the nation crazy, they were the opium of the people. He didn’t say anything. I reminded Kapil he had done cameos in four Bollywood films: Dillagi… Yeh Dillagi, Iqbal, Chain Khuli Ki Main Khuli and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi. Would he consider a lead role if some Bollywood director approached him? There was an incredulous silence. Then Kapil said icily, the famous temper under control, “I am not an actor. Those films I did, I was not acting, I was playing myself. I was Kapil Dev, you understand? I cannot act. But I can be myself, a cricketer.” Was he seeing the current lot of actors, the juniors and even the seniors like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and the Bollywood Khans, they were all super fit and athletic and all played some sport? “Yes, I am very impressed with them,” Kapil said with awe in his voice. “Look at Akshay, he gets up at 5 o’clock every morning! Earlier actors were not like this into fitness.”
In 1983 when India won the World Cup, the nation was glued to TV sets at home, but Kapil Dev himself had not seen the match in totality because he was so busy leading the team at Lord’s. Had he ever watched the complete match on video? He laughed, as if amazed at the idea, and said, “In 37 years years, I have not got the opportunity, I only saw it in bits and pieces.” So wasn’t ’83 going to be like a trip down memory lane? “I don’t know,” he admitted, “that I can say only after I have seen the film.” There was one more thing. His daughter Amiya, who is 24, was an assistant director to Kabir Khan on ’83. Did she discuss the film with him at home? “I don’t talk to her about the film,” Kapil said. “I only ask her if it is going well.” While growing up who were Amiya’s idols – were they Bollywood heroes or cricket superstars? “She was always crazy about Bollywood. She liked Hrithik Roshan. But I think she liked Rahul Dravid more!” he admitted. Was Amiya likely to take up a career in films? “She hasn’t told me yet,” Kapil Dev said, “but while she was growing up, my daughter wanted to be many things!” And just as he called he said goodbye and hung up. Not giving me the chance to wish him a Happy Birthday!