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Nov 19, 2008

Chak De India

I went through a barrage of movies last month and do not have an ounce of motivation to write reviews except for one - probably the best Bollywood movie I've seen in a while after Aamir - the film that made me hit the computer key board again is Chak De India. This Shah Rukh Khan starrer, with a predictable story line about the rise of an under-dog sports team is one of the well-made, perfectly balanced movies in the recent years.

Like the story, the movie is also the triumph of team effort. You have the Bollywood superstar King Khan, his signature 'King' mannerisms toned down to the bare minimum or practically naught. The film-makers have put together a believable team of girls as the national Women's hockey team picked from various parts of India. I do not know how they went about casting this team, it is so diverse and perfectly cast that it is hard to believe this is not a real team! I reserve my best of the best awards to the script-writer Jaideep Sahni and the director Shimit Amin - they are the ones who had the power to make or break this movie and they did what they wanted to do!

It is a run-of-the-mill story about an under-dog team coming from behind and beating the odds and giving a fitting reply to its detractors. Hindi movies have successfully tried to showcase the underdog sports-person, like in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander(which was a well-adapted copy of Breaking Away) but Jo Jeeta... was not a true sports film. It had ample Bollywood romance and villainy, buxom girls prancing around trees and dreamy-eyed boys chasing them, sports just added an additional flavor like the desi-favorite Cassata icecream. Then there was Lagaan(India's Oscar entry in 2002) where I'd say Aamir Khan directed his role himself instead of the director, Ashutosh Gowariker. Lagaan because of its sweet 'syrupiness' didn't make as much an impact on me as it did on the rest of the Indian populace, but it was a well-made film that made use of our nation's cricket fever and penchant for breaking off into songs at the drop of a err..ball.

On the contrary Chak De India has nothing but sports and for a change, it is not cricket! India's national game - field hockey finally gets its due and a Bollywood movie starring Shah Rukh Khan! It is the game which won India it's first Olympic gold (Men's hockey,1928 Amsterdam) but is often forgotten under the shadow of the other more popular game in India - cricket.

Chak De India is a loaded movie, the messages it tries to pass on are subtly conveyed, quite opposite to what the conventional Bollywood wisdom would advise. The movie is one of the few which has taken up the cause of the dark horse without explicitly coming on to your face with its messages. In fact there is more than one dark horse. Field hockey is one, women as a gender is another, being the representative of a misunderstood minority(Kabir Khan - the role of the coach played by Shah Rukh Khan) is another.

None of these issues are thrust on to the viewer. If you belong to 'time-pass' denomination you might never see the issues the film tries to bring to light and would be able view it as a pure entertainment package tinged with excitement of a sports event. If you are the serious kind, it has material for intellectual rumination as well. The success (it was the third highest grossing movie of 2007) of the movie is that it was able to tap into both kind of audience,which is a very rare event in Hindi film-dom.

Although the title is Chak De "India", thanks to the story and the script there is no over-the-top nationalistic jingoism. That is what amazes me the most about this movie, its restraint on a subject which could've easily been over-done, like a perfectly cooked shrimp(:-P) in this aspect Review: Chak de!