Movie Review: Chak De! India - About Patriotism, Not Sports

August 23, 2007

Chak De! India banks more on the emotional high of patriotism than on the sport it is based on - hockey, our national game. Shahrukh Khan plays Kabir Khan, a disgraced captain of the national hockey team, who returns to the field, this time as coach of the women's hockey team on the eve of the World Cup.

This is the classic tale of the underdog overcoming all odds and doing well when it matters the most. And yet, the movie is nearly free of clichés. The matches are a marvel in the way they have been shot, with the camera never capturing a shot not possible while shooting a real life hockey match.

If you have seen A League Of Their Own, you know the routine. Take a team filled with characters, warts and all, make them the underdogs with not a chance to win anything, you get a killer movie in the sports genre. Many a time, Shahrukh Khan reminded one of Tom Hanks in that movie. I am not a big fan of the star, but this a good performance from the actor. He finally gives what by his own standards is an understated performance. But what is really surprising is the ease with which he shares space with the lesser-known actors who comprise the hockey team.

In 1999 or 2000, I attended a lecture by a German director, who made documentaries, at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai. He spoke of how he chose the faces of characters that portray ordinary scenes in his films. He said the characters should have "strong faces". In a sequence from a documentary he showed us, a group of women cycle down a hill with the camera in a jeep tracking them. As the wind blows on their faces, the women – none of them good looking – smile at the camera. It's a rare, honest moment on film.

Many of the actors who comprise the hockey team in Chak De are not conventionally great looking. Some are pretty, but there are a few who don't have actor good looks, only strong faces. All of them are quite unlike the other - in body, face, diction and character. Each one of them comes with her problems intact. Their faces create an immediate impact when caught on camera.

When the team parades before the press wearing sarees with tricolour borders post interval, you finally realise that quite a few players – often shown as being dirty and bruised on the field – are actually good looking. Until and after that moment, it's all back to the strong faces again. Much could be said of the casting of these actors, who are nothing short of wonderful.

When I reviewed Rang De Basanti, I thought the movie was manipulating our natural patriotic instincts for commercial purposes. I am still uneasy when the patriotic highs of the movie bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. I always have to ask: Am I being manipulated?

Patriotism is often a prop in Aditya Chopra's movies. In Kabul Express, the take on patriotism is irreverent. Everyone seems keen on saving their own skins first. In Veer-Zaara, however, the lovers are divided by land; one is in Pakistan, the other is in India and the patriotism is contrived.

However, in Chak De!, director Shimit Amin (Ab Tak Chappan) keeps the reins tight. The patriotism dose is just about right or at least it's enough to ensure commercial success.

I can't help but think that writer Jaideep Sahni (Company, Bunty aur Babli) borrows from the Hollywood sports classics. He at least lifted a couple of ideas from A League Of Their Own. But still this is a brilliant effort.

The cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee also shot Iqbal. So the sports genre must have been familiar to him. The music by Salim-Sulaiman is quite good, though the title song seemed a bit familiar and, therefore, hummable.

I am a Chennai-based journalist writing on film and Tamil Nadu politics.
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Movie Review: Chak De! India - About Patriotism, Not Sports


Author: Nandhu


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August 25, 2007
12:13 AM

Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!


Peace & Light

September 5, 2007
01:53 AM

The lump in your throat doesn't mean you're being manipulated. It just means that the director has succeded in evoking the right feelings in you and that, though sceptical, you still have that feeling of nationalism dormant in you...somewhere.

September 12, 2007
09:03 AM

It highlights the divides that exist in our society...

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