Subhash K. Jha speaks about Chak De India

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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

expression.

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

motivations.

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

its after-shocks.

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

field.

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

told.

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

hurrah.

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.