Sunday, September 04, 2011

#192: Chak De India

Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan), in Chak De India, is a former Indian hockey player, who takes up the coaching reins of the Indian women's hockey team. Kabir used to be a center forward and had once missed a match-winning penalty against Pakistan in an international tournament. The defeat brought about accusations of Kabir being a traitor and the media cited his religion as motive for his betrayal of the nation. Down and out of national reckoning as a player, seven years later, Kabir is one day called by one of his best friends to become the coach of the women's hockey team. It is a post that no one is willing to touch and it is a team that the federation itself doesn't believe in. Spurred on by the objective to exorcise his ghosts of the past, Kabir takes up the challenge. Chak De India unfolds what happens therafter.

When a team sport like hockey is chosen as a subject for a movie, the first point of pressure in pre-production goes straight and foremost to the casting director because of the number of characters involved. And it is right from here that the movie begins to delight you. With a host of interesting characters thrown in from all parts of India, Kabir Khan's passage of breaking ice with the players comprises the bulk of the first half. Some neatly etched characters like Chitrashi Rawat, Shilpa Shukla, Sagarika Ghatge and Anaita Nair are not only a breath of fresh air in terms of their girl-next door looks but also for their air-tight performances as proud and egoistic members of a national team. A special mention here is due for all the women who were coached by Mir Ranjan Negi to get the right posture and action for their on-field sequences. Jaideep Sahni's script moves from one melting point to another with consummate ease and there is a lovely emotional quotient that keeps hitting you with from time to time. For example, the match between the men's and the women's team is a sequence that is bound to leave a lump in your throat. It not only goes against the grain of what you're expecting but makes you believe it couldn't have been bettered. A couple of other sub-plots involving friction between the team members add an extra layer of drama that's infused seamlessly within the main story. By the time the second half arrives, director Shimit Amin has the audience rooting for the underdog women's team.

It is near impossible, that Shahrukh is ever going to better his performance as the wronged Kabir Khan out to redeem his lost honor. His restraint and desperation as an individual pulling out all stops to prove his detractors wrong touches you. It is one of those heart-warming performances and Shahrukh delivers with elan. That he had been a player for his college team in the past might have undoubtedly helped him get the passion part of the role neatly stitched. And for once in his entire career it was nice to see him not serenading women in chiffon sarees. It is also not often that one gets to see some realistic sporting action being shot in our movies and here full marks to the technical crew for getting some of those edge-of-the-seat moments spot on. At no point does it feel like the women are playing a match for filming. It seems that a match between real players is actually filmed and that difference is there for the audience to see. The only trick that I thought was missed out in Chak De India was a clear-cut redemption for its protagonist. This after all was a story about Kabir Khan and that part fell short of hitting a nerve.

Chak De India is India's first ever sports movie that is complete in all aspects. It had a true-life ring to it, a protagonist whose story was worth watching, some gripping hockey and an excellent supporting cast whose performances would stay with you for a long while. If there's anyone out there compiling a list of Bollywood's best, Chak De India's inclusion, I would imagine, would be a foregone conclusion.

Rating: 7.8/10

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