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.