Playing Sunil Gavaskar: Tahir Raj Bhasin opens up on 83 and more

It’s been a good few months for Tahir Raj Bhasin who successfully transitioned from bad boy to a badass. The actor made a stunning debut in 2014 with Mardaani where he portrayed the role of a villain. Cut to seven years later, he successfully managed to pull off what many would say is the role of a lifetime – Sunil Gavaskar. Tahir played the role of the former cricketer with elan and the movie has received mostly good to great reviews. While its box office numbers aren’t anything to write home about (thanks to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant), almost every critic has only words of praise for the film and its cast. In an exclusive interview with Filmfare, Tahir speaks about playing Sunil Gavaskar, Looop Lapeta and Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein.

How are you feeling right now?

I’m feeling amazing. First of all, because of the kind of reactions we are getting for 83 and second of all, the stuff that I have coming up… so that has me very excited! (Crosses fingers)

83 is such a good film and it was stuck for so long so how did you deal with that? Especially after knowing what a film it was?

When you’re offered a film, you usually spend a day or a week reading the script but 83 was just an emotional decision, it was just instant. Sunil Gavaskar? 83? Ok, I’m on. I wasn’t even born back in 1983 but it’s just a story you have grown up with and pictures you have seen on every sports channel, that you feel like you have actually really lived that moment. And now in a way, I actually have and for me, the only thing that I had at the back of my mind was that I wanted my family to watch this film – and watch it in a theatre and get that experience of rewatching those matches in technicolour. It was incredible when that actually happened. My parents were at the premiere and they were watching it with me… and it was just an emotional moment for everyone.

Tahir Raj Bhasin

As you said, we weren’t born then but everyone has heard about it. Your parents remember it, however, so the people who KNEW must have been thrilled when you got the role.

Yes, absolutely. They were so excited by it. In fact, every generation of my family has called me up. They were all pretty excited but there was also a certain amount of pressure of “are you going to be able to play Sunil Gavaskar?” So, we had to work on the look quite a bit, I’m also not from a cricketing background so to work on the stance, to work on the cricketing style, all of that took about seven months of time and I’ve just been overwhelmed with the kind of responses we’ve got. And the only feedback that mattered was when Sunny sir (Sunil Gavaskar) watched the film himself. I met him after the show and I gave him a big hug all while being super anxious and he said that I saw myself when I saw your performance. It was the only feedback that actually matters at the end of the day.

Tahir Raj Bhasin

You’ve spent months preparing for this role – what’s your journey been like with Sunil Gavaskar?

When you play a living legend like Sunil Gavaskar, there is a sense of awe towards them. The gravitas and the experience that he comes with, so many record-breaking moments in his career even, before 1983 the World Cup happened, he was the senior-most player and the poster boy for cricket in the county. The challenge was how do you bring that seniority into a group of actors where we are actually all the same age? So even though I am the same age as Ranveer and Harrdy, how do I portray a character who has a decade more experience than me? In a strange way, having lived as Sunny Gavaskar for those three or four months, I understand him better so when I met him before the shoot and after the shoot, there was a little bit of a transformation that had come and I felt comfortable enough to hug him which I probably wouldn’t have at the beginning.

Tahir Raj Bhasin

We’ve all heard that cricket is the one religion that really brings everyone in India together. And seeing the reviews of 83, do you feel like that’s true?

As a team, we had people from all over the country, there was Jiiva from the South, we had Ammy Virk and Harrdy from the North and people from the Marathi Film industry. Oftentimes, there were jokes that were cracked in Marathi that the rest of the crew and the actors didn’t understand… Sometimes jokes were cracked in Punjabi that the rest of the people did not understand… But ultimately when we were on the field playing cricket together, everyone knew the lingo, everyone knew the positions and it really bonded us all together. So that was the one binding factor that translates on-screen and even to the audience that when it comes to that iconic moment in history it unifies all of us. And I think that that is one thing we all need at this moment are those joyous times which reflect on things that unite us.

Do you feel like you have taken away lifelong friendships from this film?

I have a WhatsApp group that was active through the two years that we’ve waited for this film to come out. It was like a college trip at the end of it because we were all travelling in the team bus, we were all staying at the same hotel and it becomes a bond that you share. I honestly believed that when I was offered this film, it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. I remember having this moment with the other cast members on the night of the premiere – as the premiere was the closing of a chapter that we had all shared – but it was the beginning of a story and a bond that we will share for the rest of our lives.

Tahir Raj Bhasin

Do you kind of feel relieved that it’s gotten the kind of response that it has?

Definitely! More than the relief, I would say joy! Like I mentioned at the start of this interview, it was an emotional decision to join this film.  So, the reason to join 83 was so that we could give people the experience that they have always heard about and seen pictures of. And the kind of responses that am getting on Instagram and on Twitter is amazing. I took my grandmom with me to watch the film and she cried, I went with my parents and they got goosebumps, so that is what being an actor and working in films is all about to get the audience to relive those moments and to feel something. It’s been an emotional week and it’s been a privilege.

Tahir Raj Bhasin

Tell us something about Looop Lapeta and Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein as well.

Yes, so Looop Lapeta will be out in February on Netflix and I am super excited. I’m looking at 2022 as the year of transition where all the stuff that I’ve got coming out are all main lead parts and are in the romantic drama zone. I’ve never done “romantic hero” before which is what excites me about Looop Lapeta because it’s an adaptation of a German film called Run Lola Run. What’s interesting about it is that it is a heist film and it’s got quirk and style to it and everything put together, it’s going to make a very stylistic package and playing a romantic hero against the phenomenal actor Taapsee Pannu makes you up your own game. Other than that, Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein was a very challenging shoot because we shot all of it last year right through night curfews and lockdowns and all kinds of issues with production and it was a multi-city shoot all over the country. But, when I saw the teaser it made it all worth it. You can see that transition from being a romantic drama to a dark psychological thriller, and to get to play the lead and have that kind of timeline to explore your character, it was a phenomenal acting process and I really hope that translates when it releases on Netflix soon.

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