A Winner all the Way
By MovieTalkies.com, 10 August 2007
Aditya Chopra will surely be heaving a sigh of relief. The lean season is finally over. It took a Shah Rukh Khan to pot the all important goal for the production house. Chak De India is no Lagaan and Kabir Khan is no Bhuvan. But Kabir Khan is Shah Rukh Khan. And the superstar turns in one of his most mature and nuanced performance to date, Swades included.
One has to give credit to Shah Rukh for playing a character other than himself. There is little scope for him to act pretty or coy. In fact, it is a performance which is shorn of the typical SRK mannerisms. It is one of his most honest and heartfelt performances to date. Bearing stubble on his face, this is not the lover boy SRK that we are too used to seeing. The actor is the life of the film. Hats off to director Shimit Amin, for pulling off a film which tells the story of the underdog with sensitivity and manages to weave in the themes of gender bias, minority bias, regional bias and patriotism without resorting to the usual clichés. The story makes sense and is rendered sensibly. Amin maintains his directorial control over the content, never falling into the temptation of going overboard because he has a Shah Rukh Khan on board. The film works because it manages to go beyond its superficial resemblance to Lagaan and Bhuvan’s band of boys.
Chak De India is about this ragged band of girls, coming from all parts of India to form the Indian National hockey team which is going to be sent to the hockey World Cup to be held in Australia. Their coach is Kabir Khan, a former men’s hockey team captain, who lost the World Cup final to Pakistan. For obvious reason, he is branded a traitor and slips out of the limelight. Seven years later, Kabir Khan is back. This time, as coach to the Indian women’s hockey team. His dream is to win the World Cup Final and cleanse the blot on his character. As for the girls, they can’t stand their coach, and most of them cannot stand each other. On and off the field, each is doing their own thing.
The seniors in the team resent Kabir’s method of coaching. His insistence on complete obedience and discipline does not go down well with them. There is a mini mutiny, but is quickly quelled. It takes Kabir the longest to win over the senior-most team member, but he manages that as well. What binds the team and the coach together is the fact that they both are underdogs. In an emotional speech on the eve of the team’s final match, Kabir tells them to play the best hockey of their lives. He urges them to think about everything and everyone who tried to stop them from playing, ever. He promises them that nobody could wrest their 70 minutes on the field from them. And that’s what the team does. They manage to bridge the regional divide and play the best hockey that they are capable of as Team India.
Chak De India is not just about SRK and Kabir Khan. The film also belongs to all the girls who form the hockey team. Each is battling her own odds and has made it to the team despite them. The girls have been characterized well and each one of them puts in a fine performance. They come across as real people, which is a credit to the writer as well as the actors. Whether it is the goalkeeper, who is married and has a husband back home along with in-laws who expect her to dump her ambitions and come back home; Or the spoilt star forward of the team. She comes from Chandigarh and has a score to settle with her fiancée, who is the vice-captain of the Indian cricket team; or the young aspiring forward from Jat-land, who is bent on matching her city smart sisters in her search for goals and one upmanship. In the end all these stories come together and become part of the larger story of playing and winning for the country.
Amin manages to weave in this last bit without resorting to clichés as well. There is a scene in the film, where Kabir is watching the Indian tricolour being hoisted by the grounds staff before the Indian match. He remarks to one of his team members that this is the first time that he is seeing a gora hoist the Indian flag. What elevates this statement is the manner in which it is delivered by the character in the film.
Like it has already been said before, Chak De India is about underdogs. The temptation to search for resemblances to other such films is there. But what makes this film stand out is the fact that the underdogs are women and the condition of sports in India. Other than cricket, that is. And finally, there is the dismal state of women’s sports in our country. Amin scores a home run with his choice of theme. And he takes home the championship for his sure execution of the drama on screen. It s not a flawless film but its overall impact makes you want to overlook its many small, niggling loopholes.
In the end, what matters is that Shimit Amin gives us a reason to celebrate. The film kind of makes you feel proud somewhere. The point where Chak De India touches the heart is way beyond that of national boundaries. It is the glory of the spirit which ultimately moves and elevates us. Shah Rukh Khan and his motley gang of girls manage to do just that. So Chak De to them!