Chak De India

I’ve spoken of formulaic movies in the past, and how I get antsy if they don’t try anything original within the framework they operate under. If you’re going to ride the shoulders of giants, the least you can do is jump. Otherwise, what good are you?

Chak De India is a formulaic sports movie from start to finish. It borrows bits and pieces from movies such as The Miracle (in terms of its focus on the coach) and Any Given Sunday (Al Pacino’s speech to his team on the eve of the big match). It hits every standard note that a movie like this is suppposed to hit – an underrated team (in this case, in an underrated sport – women’s hockey), prima donnas, a disastrous beginning before the team regroups and surprises everyone else, the big final against a favoued opponent whose result is decided in the closing minutes, the small speeches on teamwork and hard work before the big inspiring speech on going out there and playing one’s heart out…

I could go on, but why bother? The simple truth is, despite its mostly run-of-the-mill nature, the movie works.

The biggest share of the credit ought to go to director Shimit Amin. Clearly, the man knows how to get the best out of his actors. His debut movie Ab Tak Chappan featured the best Nana Patekar performance we’ve seen in a long time. This one does something similar with SRK, whose magnificient performance here will rank alongside his career-best. He gets numerous opportunities to rant and rave and generally ham his way out of a honest day’s work. It is to his credit that he stays on the straight and narrow. Through little gestures and dialogue that says little but reveals much, he makes Kabir Khan a study in simmering anger and controlled aggression.

This is a man who has been vilified by the nation at large for a penalty stroke that went wrong at a crucial juncture, and the wound still remains raw in his psyche. Sabko ek galti maaf hai, says his friend at one juncture. Sabko nahin, he replies. It is obvious right from the start that this is his shot at redemption. However, the movie makes this simply an undercurrent and concentrates instead on how he builds a champion team.

The movie has much to say about the travails of moulding a multi-lingual, multi-cultural group into a single unit. State quotas, language barriers, people from North-Eastern states being treated as outsiders, people from Southern states being dumped into a broad category called Madrasis… There isn’t much that is original here or path-breaking, but it is interesting how some of this works its way into practical situations on and off the field.

With most movies of this nature, a few of the team members stand out. The ones who grab most of the attention are the ones from Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, and the one who plays Bindiya Naik, the most experienced player in the squad. The players from Haryana and Chandigarh provide most of the entertainment. Especially the former, a girl named Komal Chautala (Chitrashi, a college-level hockey player) whose colloqualisms had me in splits. Barring the one who plays the captain Vidya Sharma (Vidya Malavde), I don’t think I have seen any of them before. The acting isn’t stellar, but I couldn’t find anything to complain either. If I have a complaint, it is that Vidya has an extremely underwritten role. You do not see why she became the captain, or what leadership she provides on the field.

Bindiya (Shilpa), the experienced one and the former captain, has the best-written role of the lot. She is the one who takes the longest time to come out of her comfort zone and play by Kabir’s rules. Her confrontation with SRK in a crucial scene in the second half is one of movie’s best moments. There are so many ways in which this scene could have been played, but very few of them could’ve struck exactly the right note as this one managed to do. It takes a very sensible director to be able to make this choice, and convey so much with so little dialogue. (That scene deserves a separate Freeze Frame post, and will get one soon.)

The movies does miss a few tricks. The fact that the girls have to play the championship games on Astroturf, a surface they aren’t familiar with, is barely mentioned. The coach relies on Bindiya’s contribution in a crucial game, but you get no sense of what his/her strategy is. A language problem with one of the players is brought up, but ignored afterwards.

However, these are minor blips in what is largely an enjoyable ride. Chak De India earns its place among the new breed of sports movies coming out of Bollywood – smart, sensible and engaging. Maybe someday, there will be enough of these so that we can forget the horrors of Awwal Number.

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5 thoughts on “Chak De India

  1. I like a well narrated underdog story.

    Coach Carter, Glory Road, Remember the Titans also fall into this formulaic category.They all have the usual underdogs with shortlived interpersonal differences, “extraordinarily fired up and disciplined, tough like nails on the outside but with a well hidden warm heart inside” coach, strong and headstrong opponents AND victory in the nick of climactic time…

  2. Nearly all of them tell that particular tale. And a good number of them these days claim to have their origins in fact. The character of the coach is usually the same. I wonder why that is.

    I should write about sports movies that have other things in mind than the big game and that last second finish.

  3. Ramsu
    Any sports movie, would follow the same pattern, a movie like Raging Bull, is an exception. But at the end of the day, we enjoy em, for the sheer adrenaline rush. We know the hero, will win it. My fav sports movies
    1) Chariots of Fire
    2) Rocky
    3) Raging Bull( though i would call this more of a biopic).
    4) Remember the Titans
    5) Any Given Sunday
    6) Someone Up There Likes Me

    And in India
    1) Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
    2) Lagaan
    3) Iqbal

  4. Rajendran says:

    The beauty about sports movies is their preditable nature but what makes them work is how well they execute the predictability. It is one place where Neils Bohr’s comment on prediction does not really hold true. Escape to Victory is a clear example of that among several others already mentioned.

    For some reason, sports have never been the focus of Indian movies, Hindi movies in particular. There have been a few in Bengali(Mohun Baganer Meye and Dhanni Meye to mention a few) but even in them, the focus has not been sports. They could be called sports movies if you can consider calling “Wimbledon” a sports movie.

    Having said that, I still think, Saaheb(Bengali) with Tapas Paul enacting as a goalkeeper before he got his 3 double chins was a super sports movie. Once again, sports was in the background in that. Hip-Hip-Hurray is a lesser known Hindi(starring Raj Kiran and Deepti Naval) sports movie that deserves to be listed in the best sports movies produced in India.

  5. vishal watwani says:

    Chak De definetely stands tall in the current hindi cinema scenario… Though we’ve all seen the Underdog triumph stories, but this one, with it’s finer nuances, takes a shot at the idiosyncracies of indian psyche, very subtly though. On the flip side, the coach with his hockey stick was not that believable… The film addresses many issues but some where there is a feeling of superficialness to the script. But nevertheless, it’s a movie to applaud for Hindi cinema and not bollywood is coming up with scripts as heros and atars as actors… Jaidep Sahani is really the bloke to watch out… way to go…

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