Rating : Good (4/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2007
Running time : 2.5 hours
Cast : Shahrukh Khan, Anjan Srivastav, Chitrashi Rawat, Tanya Abrol, Shilpa Shukla, Sagarika Ghatge, Vidya Malvade
Director : Shimit Amin
CHAK DE INDIA : GLORIOUS !
Until about 10 years ago, I viewed modern-day Bollywood as a giant trash-spewing machine. Things have slowly changed for the good, however. With the advent of new, educated , “thinking” directors, some very good cinema has started to come out of Mumbai. Still it is rare that a thoroughly wholesome film graces desi film screens. A film which is feel-good, clean, positive and quality cinema. Tall order, eh ? But Chak De is one of those rare films. It is the story of the under-dog. “What ?”, you groan – “that tried-and-tested formula, the one that every down-on-his-luck Tom, Dick and Harry banks upon to save a sinking film ?” Yup, the very same. But “Chak de” is not sinking, and saving, it does not need. Formulaic or not, the film works and how.
“Chak de” is an out and out sports film. And it deals with an unlikely sport – hockey. Very far from the limelight (in which cricket basks), hockey and especially women’s hockey languishes. Impeded by governmental bureaucracy, with the babus thinking of women only as “chakla-belan chalaane-wali Bhartiyan nariyan”, short of coaches, facilities and sponsorships, the Indian Women’s Hockey Team is the perfect under-dog. To champion this under-dog comes coach Kabir Khan (SRK), an ex-hockey captain with a tarnished reputation. He has one goal in mind – the World Cup.
As we stare incredulous at the man’s temerity, he struggles on; besides the snide comments on his past that he has to face, the girls of the hockey team don’t want him, and the babus, believing the team unworthy, decide to not send a women’s team to the World Cup itself. This is Kabir’s second shot at a World Title. He’s tried once and lost. Is he slated to lose again ?
Shah Rukh Khan, in this film, leads a team of unknown actors. And it is to the director’s credit, that SRK doesn’t take over the film but is content to give each character her due. Khan himself gives a rousing performance, his best possibly after Swades. There is no twitching of the eyebrows, no hamming it up, and no shades of SRK overshadowing the character. SRK plays Kabir with a fragility I’d thought him incapable of.
Each of the 16 girls which form the Indian National Team, fits her character, from Soimoi Kerketa (Nisha Nair) of Jharkhand to Nethra Reddy (Sandia Furtado) of Andhra. The look is true and so is the accent. Drawn from the far corners of India, we have the lioness from Punjab – Balbir Kaur (Tanya Abrol), the tomboy from Haryana – Komal Chautala (Chitrashi Rawat), the veteran bully – Bindia Naik (Shilpa Shukla), the good-natured captain Vidya (Vidya Malvade) and the English-speaking mem from Chandigarh Preeti Sabharwal (Sagarika Ghatge). There is also Gunjan Lakhani, played by Shubhi Mehta of MTV Roadies fame (she was one of the 3 finalists in that season). Although these girls get the chunk of the action and the screen-time, all the cast have acquitted themselves rather well.
CDI is well-scripted (Ranjan Negi served as consultant), strong in it’s performances and on believability, and brings a freshness, honesty and integrity rarely seen. It gives us a desperate, yet strong band of girls striving to prove to themselves and to others, their worth and their ability. It gives us a man striving to redeem his honor and his title, but this is done subtly and without the emotional drama that passes for “motivation” in most Hindi films. Kabir Khan does not relate to us his tale of woe, (we get hints) nor does he revel in his martyrdom – he just believes and does. Finally a sensible hero.
As far as the girls are concerned, they aren’t just sacrificial lambs at the altar of nationalistic pride, but independent thinking women by themselves. They struggle as a team, and strive for their wins, not as a balm to Kabir Khan’s wounded pride, or swept-up in nationalistic jingoism. They do it because they love it; it is as much an affirmation of themselves as it is an honor for the country – a truly empowering sentiment.
The film goes further in it’s commentary on sexism – eve-teasers are roundly beaten-up, and those advocating that women remain in the kitchen, are booed. Through the dialogues, we also see the problem of treating the citizens from the North-Eastern states as “foreigners” simply because they look different – at the registration desk, Mary Ralte and Molly Zimik are accorded a “Welcome” and they wonder aloud why it is so, when they are in their own country. There is also the issue of the “generic” Madrasi which is dealt with – says one character “What is the difference between a Tamil and a Telugu ?” He gets a fitting reply.
We know that there is the whole unity-in-diversity theme going on here. We know that the director is playing upon our sympathies for the under-dog and the soft spot we have reserved for the ill-treated. We hear, ever so faintly, the drum-drumming of the dhol of patriotism. We also know how it will end. Still, the pleasure of seeing this film does not diminish. The editor has done a fine job indeed when a 2 and a half hour film does not seem as long, and the director has delivered a hit when the film flows along beautifully with nary a break in it’s narration.
This movie flouts the basic laws of Hindi films – there is no romance, no song-and-dance routines, no villains (unless you consider the oily, sarkari babus villains) and no obvious attempts at glamour. What is does offer is plenty of adrenalin, daring and guts. This is a perfect family film (how often do I say that ?) – it’s clean and wholesome. Besides that, and more importantly, it’s a rollicking entertainer, and jolly good fun.