Feminism in Chak De, and a lot of angry women

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, there’s a lovely discussion going on. Beth started things off with her analysis of a scene in Chak De India where the team gets together to beat up a bunch of eve teasers. Her point was that the violence diminished the message:

Here’s what’s bugging me. Apart from this scene, Chak De! India is for me a feminist film, unapologetically, boldly, with heart and humor. But women taking on the worst behavior of men and/or male-established/dominated society is not what feminism about. You don’t get to attack people because they mistreat you. Of course these jackasses deserved to be punished. Their behavior was harmful and hurtful and unacceptable. I was totally with Balbir when she yelled at them, and I absolutely do not think females must be quiet and just bear whatever sh*t is dished out at them. But vigilante violence isn’t really the answer here – in my mind, it’s not even an answer (which is one reason I don’t always love the 1970s Angry Young Man acrhetype). In a story that highlights personal and professional success by playing by the rules and behaving ethically and with concern for others, it doesn’t fit. I’m so disappointed that not only does the movie have the girls engage in this behavior, it also has this outburst of short tempers and violence serve as the bonding moment, the experience that enables the very existence of the team continue. What’s the message here? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? We will rise when we beat down others? The people who mistreated us behave like this, so we should too? Violence demonstrates our potential for greatness?

While her point is certainly valid, Amrita responds with an interesting take on the issue, from the perspective of someone who has grown up in India and faced a lot of eve-teasing:

This is why that scene in Chak De struck such a chord in every single Indian woman I know. There is not one of us that has not experienced a moment like that one. A moment when we would have done anything just to rip some motherfucker’s throat out but had to satisfy ourselves with a few choice insults or maybe a dignified silence depending upon the circumstances, our personalities and our upbringing. If there’s something that Indian women across caste, class and regional lines can relate to, it’s being harassed. Therefore it was a cathartic moment to watch those guys get beaten up – our long suppressed wishes were being fulfilled on screen in one glorious scene. And unlike other Bollywood movies, where women only get to beat up evil doers in the most “eeks! don’t break my itsy bitsy fingernail” uber-ditsy feminine manner possible by using lampshades and sandals, and that too only with the help of either a cunning, faithful dog or a massive crowd, these women were using hockey sticks, those oh-so-macho tools of every gangster’s trade and they didn’t care if they broke a few tables along with their fingernails.

Judging by the response to that post, titled 16 Angry Women, there seems to be a wellspring of support for her thesis.

As part of the movie, the scene is a bit problematic. I suspect Amin put it in because he had to go from a point where the team was united against Kabir to a point where the team was united under Kabir, so he used the fight as a way to make that transition. It’s a commonly used ploy — create a situation where they are all on the same side. But I don’t see the logic here — why would the team suddenly feel like Kabir is “worthy” of being their coach, given why they rejected him in the first place (his “traitorous” past, so to speak)? From that perspective, I still feel it wasn’t as effective as it needed to be.

But seen in isolation, it is quite interesting what the scene represents and what reactions it brings out. We react well to violence in the movies when it arrives as the solution to a lot of pent-up frustration. When a much put-upon hero finally breaks loose and bashes up the first bad guy unwise enough to cross his path, we feel satisfied. Judging by Amrita’s post and the reactions to it, this seems like a similar situation. Except that the individual experiences of women in the audience, not the script itself, sets it up.

8 thoughts on “Feminism in Chak De, and a lot of angry women

  1. I loved Amrita’s post, and it struck a chord with me too even though I’m an American. There are plenty of obnoxious men here too, believe me. The same way you feel when the hero finally gets to bash someone up is exactly how I felt during that scene. And I think that once the girls had banded together and realized what it felt like to be a team—to be “India” instead of a bunch of individual “states”—they realized that what Kabir had been saying all along was true; hence it made a lot of sense for them to reach out to him. They didn’t reject him because of his “traitorous” past, but because he didn’t tolerate their behaving as individuals instead of working together as a team; he sidelined them because they were playing selfishly and defying him as the team leader.

  2. M says:


    Most people I know, both men and women, who’ve seen that movie, reacted to the scene as the one that brought the team together as a team, and as the event that showed the team how much they could do together. I think street harassment (I refuse to call it an innocuous sounding name) is such a universal experience in India that it didn’t need to be set-up further in the script. In fact, doing so would have been cumbersome, IMO.


  3. memsaab, M>> You make valid points. The fight did bring them together as a team. Maybe that led to the realization that this was what Kabir wanted them be — I am not completely convinced on that point, but I see how it could work that way.

    M, you’re right. The setup would’ve been cumbersome. And from what I understand, it’s a universal experience, both in India and outside.


  4. My interpretation of the scene is that it was the final act which resulted in the team bonding closely (excluding the ‘senior’ outliers who were still not prepared to do so). The scene was about standing up for each other, something that the girls had not yet done. Yes, they did have one common agenda – to kick out the coach, but beyond that there was no other motivation to stick together.

  5. Ramsu, I dont think the team rejected the coach for his “traitorous” past. They were having a power struggle with both the coach and the girls trying to get the upper hand. Some of the girls were used to getting the upper hand over the coach and also the rest of their team mates and when they couldnt brow beat him, they stimulated the revolt. That was their first “team” act. The coach was still on the other side. The guy-bashing was their second team act with the coach also on their side. They had all faced down a common enemy and finding that the coach could be an ally was what marked the turning point. It could have been better done, but I loved the teaser-bashing!

  6. Amrita says:

    Much as I loved the scene as I wrote in my post, I actually agree with you and Beth that the ultimate effect of it is sort of diffused. On the one hand, the team knits together marvelously because one girl has stood up for two others she barely knew and then the entire team kicked in. But on the other hand what that has to do with kabir, I don’t know. the “chakka” scene was nice but I didn’t see any of the girls pausing in the fight to watch him get their back. And frankly, I didn’t like the fact that they chose to give him that little scene because it was *their* moment.

  7. Valid point: The girls didn’t reject him because of his past, but simply used it as an excuse.

    However, I agree with Amrita: I can see what the scriptwriter would’ve wanted the girls to feel about Kabir after the fight, but I am not completely convinced that they would’ve felt it. It’s possible, but is it plausible?


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