By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
First things first. Chak De India is an outright winner. A triumph of the
spirit. And of craftsmanship. While director Shimit(Ab Tak Chappan)
Amin has crafted a film with immense staying power , and exception
integrity and gusto, the thought-process behind the endearing endeavour
harks back to a series of well-crafted Hollywood films about the team
spirit, the low-spirited tream and the burnt-out disgraced and exiled coach
who motivates the team and galvanizes his own dormant spirit into a wide-
alert status . Dig in. It's all there. And yet writer Jaideep Sahni takes the
expected tale to heights great expectations with an endearing tone of
Shimit Amin turns the triumph-of-spirit formula inside-out.While
narrating a fairly predictable story of a down-and-out all-girls' hockey
team's journey into global triumph, the director brings into play a kind of
abiding charisma that's born out of a sincere passion for a neglected sport
and that even more-neglected spirit of collective aspirations.
To call Chak De the Lagaan of the hockey field would be rather fascile
and foolish, and akin to calling Attenborough's Gandhi the Schindler's List
of the Gandhian era.
A certain fleet of formulism runs across all films about seeming losers
who triumph on the field against all cynicism. But beyond that elementary
reading there ticks a substantial art of gold in this tale of molten
The question of the Indian Muslim's identity in the face of an often-
suspicious majority surfaces early in the clenched narration, as Kabir Khan
(Shah Rukh) is accused of selling-out a crucial game of hockey to
Pakistan. Uh-oh, you tell yourself, not one of those harangue-helmed
polemic- possessed pulpit-preening exercizes in bleeding -hearts cinema!
Shimit and his writer Jaideep don't let you down. Every grim layer of
'message' is toned down and polished up to highlight and accentuate the
cinematic quality without losing out on sheer relevance of the moment and
The ragged bunch of girls from all over the country gather under one
umbrella to give the cynics a run for their money. You watch them with a
distant curiosity which soon merges into a keen interest in their progress
report. The game never looks contrived. And the green-room chat is filled
with punctuations of immense mirth. Happily, the film never lapses into a
verbose rendering of the awakening conscience.
By the time the director and his grim protagonist get a grip over the
girls' athletic abilities and their blind spots we are completely hooked,
watching not the socio-political issues but a film that pushes the envelope
by taking the Formula Film on a jaunty journey across a craggy hockey
The dialogues are quite often the stuff bumper stickers are made of.
"There's room for only one goonda in this team, and that's me," the
snarling coach tells the team bully Bindiya Naik(played with instinctive
strength by Shilpa Shukla).
The drama emanates in a rush of warm feelings from the interactive
tensions between pairs from the team , for instance the vain Marathi player
Preeti Sabarwal(Sagarika Ghatge) and the dimunitive mirchi from Harayana
Komal Chautala(Chitrashi Rawat)…or for that matter the flavourful frisson
between the ostracized Kabir and the hockey federation which collectively
sneers at his aspirations for the all-girls' hockey team.
Of course you know it's all going to come together in a magnificent
whoosh of athletic splendour at the end. Still, you are completely
hooked…enraptured and in total empathy with the girls as they head for
Melbourne to bring back the gold medal for a neglected game. By the time
the girls get into bordered white saris you are smiling protectively at these
children from the third world.
Idealistic and dreamy? You bet! Isn't that what cinema was always
meant to be? Chak De India takes us back to the joyous days of watching
movies where the heroes began by being unfairly cut down to size and then
progressed to being warriors of the dark-light fighting their way out of the
negativity that surrounds their dreams.
Several sequences stand out for their glorious grip over the grammar of
cinema. The sequence at Macdonald's where the hockey team beats up a
gang of eve-teasers is so deliciously fulfilling, you want to applaud the
writer and director for manoeuvring the gender war into an urbane
recreational zone without trivializing the larger issues involved.
In terms of the tight but unobtrusive technique applied to Shimit
Amin's redolent narration Chak De India qualifies as one of the finest
sports-based dramas in living memory, on a par with the poignant
sportsmanship of Chariots Of Fire, if only there was a theme music to
match the other film.
The editing is never cruel to the sportive spirit. We get to watch the girls
playing hockey for as long as required without being subjected to
redundant visual hammering.
Finally though, the film is a triumph for Shah Rukh Khan. Stripped of
the lover-boy image, unadorned by the romantic props that have given his
superstarry image that supple longevity and power, Shah Rukh stares
straight into his character Kabir's conscience and isn't afraid to mirror
some uncomfortable home truths about how we treat our minorities, be it
the Muslim Indian, the publicly active woman (watch the arrogant cricket
player smirk at his hockey- playing fiancee's dreams) or just the female
gender trying to be on a par with the opposite sex.
The power-driven images of gender equation, cultural dominance and
athletic discrimination come, not from a bravura need to make an issue-
based film but from the far more basic need to tell a story that had to be
The girls on the team remain with you after their on-field victory
because there's a far larger victory navigating their karma to a final
Beyond the tale of the triumph of the spirit, there lies the triumph of the
spirit of cinema. After a point it doesn't matter whether the girls are playing
hockey. It's not the sport. It's the spirit that shines through in every
glistening frame of this tale that needed to be told before hockey became as
obsolete as films about people who play to redeem their souls.