After watching Chak De India, I came back missing the odd motley of girls who make up the hockey team. The freshness of the cast and their regional idiosyncrasies were something I was familiar with in life but not in hindi films. In hindi films, acting has no relevance to reality or identity, the characters take on a particularly absurd tone play acting as if in a void that homogenizes all identities and emotions to the hindi film form. But that is getting ahead of my story. Chak De India is a refreshing product from Yash Raj Films and show cases Shah Rukh's maturity and transformation from the commercial lap dog to hopefully a more creative phase in his career.
Chak De India is the first Indian sports film and it is executed with technical finesse and a grace unknown to the grammer of Bombay films. It is based on the life of Mir Ranjan Negi, former Indian hockey goalkeeper charged with allegations of match-fixing after India's 1-7 defeat to Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games hockey final. Seven years later, Negi’s honour was restored when he coached the national women's hockey team that won gold at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. I liked the adaptation of Negi's story and the fact that they choose to make him a Muslim character. This clever tinkering reflected well on the communal turn that a bad performance can take for a Muslim sportsman. The Indian cricketer Mohammed Kaif's home in Allahabad has been stoned and graffiti scribbled on it many times owing to the bad performance of the Indian cricket team.
I will not make a fetish of this Muslim issue as all sportsman in the public eye face this wrath of the fan. However, it can only be said that in case of serious trouble it is worse for the Muslims especially if Pakistan is the opponent. And considering our communal times, this is a reality we are all so aware of.
Getting back to the film in review, Chak De India (2007), is the second outing for director Shimit Amin who earlier made Ab Tak 56 (2004). Amin is said to have earlier worked in Hollywood in the editorial and the sound department. Directing the Jaideep Sahni script, Amin does a wonderfully coherent job and keeps the film to its essential.
The core of the film are the girls who make up the hockey team, each coming from a different part of India. The selection of girls is said to reflect and pay homage to the states who provide the most of the hockey players to the Indian team. The composition of the team and therefore the choice of actors by itself is a courageous act mapping a political reality that hindi films do not even bother with (I have in mind the Jharkhand and the Mizoram, Manipur girls). Though it would be express to also notice that finally, the drama is played out by just four (Komal Chautala-Haryana, Palwinder-Punjab, Preeti-Chandigarh and Bindiya Naik-Maharashtra) of the characters moving the conflict to its resolution. This is not nit-picking, this is the what happens in the film and the characters and actors from the margins merely provide a foil for all-India composition of the team. But the tokenism was encouraging in itself.
Shah Rukh's essaying of the role of Kabir Khan was the perfect foil to the innocence and ambitions of his young team. His interpretation is understated, focussed and avoids all the mannerisms, we associate with Shah Rukh Khan the star, getting into the skin of the character with a incisiveness that has been missing since his earlier films, a truly memorable experience for avid-Shah Rukh watchers. The movie also does a favor to us by avoiding the pitfalls of romance or a long disgraced period for the character of Khan. The seven years he spends in wilderness is a edit cut and we are introduced to a bearded and an older Khan.
It is said that an American firm specializing in sports films managed the training and pre-production work for the hockey matches and they have done a very good job at it. The World Cup in Australia is reflected well on the screen with smooth edits to provide for the various matches this team plays and there is a credibility in the way the matches are shown.
The final verdict is that Chak De India is a noble watch and the commercial success of the film bears testimony to its novelty. A neat film with interesting characters, conflicts we can all identify, sports with and a more than real conclusion reflecting the triumph of team building and good human resource management. An excellent sports film, a service to hockey, the neglected Indian national game and add to it the fact that it is a film about women. The film also needs commendation for the fact that it avoids the vocabulary of jingoism underplaying it. There were no rendering of the national anthem as I feared.