Chak De! India

2007, Movie, NR, 152 mins


A rare mainstream Indian movie without musical numbers (though it features original songs), Shimit Amin and Jaideep Sahni's inspirational sports drama shoulders an unusually heavy thematic load, including the quest for personal redemption of a disgraced athlete, second-rate treatment of women's teams and the need for modern India to set aside inter-state and -faith rivalries in favor of loyalty to a united nation.

At the conclusion of a heated game against Pakistan's national field-hockey team, pride drives Kabir Khan (star Shahrukh Kahn), captain of the Indian team, to claim a critical penalty shot for himself. He flubs it, sparking heated rumors that he did it deliberately to fix the game. Disgraced and unemployable, Kabir vanishes. Seven years later he resurfaces in a most unlikely place: Old teammate Uttamaji offers him a coaching job with the national women's hockey team. The Indian Hockey Association has nothing but contempt for the women's team — they're not good enough to play a European high school team, sneers one association official. Kabir is up for the challenge, but even he's daunted by the squabbling pack of players recruited from states all over India and utterly unwilling to let go of generations worth of seething regional resentments. The battle of wills starts on Day 1, when Kabir benches five disruptive players, including strong, experienced Bindia (Shilpa Shukla), who expects the privileges that go with seniority, and prodigiously talented tomboy Koumal (Chitrashi Rawat), who defied her old-fashioned father to play. Rani and Soimoi (Seema Azmi, Nisha Nair), dark-skinned girls from rural Jharkhand — Soimoi speaks neither Hindi nor English — are ostracized, and Asian-featured Molly and Mary (Masochon V. Zimik, Kimi Laldawla) are barely acknowledged as Indian. Vidya's (Vidya Mallavde) in-laws are pressuring her to come home and honor her family responsibilities, while Preeti's (Sagarika Ghatge) fiance, an up-and-coming cricket player, ridicules her ambitions. Kabir gradually wins over most of the players, appealing to their self-respect as women and athletes and inspiring them with his vision of a team that plays for India, not personal glory or regional pride. But Bindia continues to undermine their blossoming camaraderie, while Preeti and Koumal are locked in a distracting personal rivalry. Will the team ever work well enough together to compete on an international playing field?

Like A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992), CHAK DE! INDIA uses sports-movie conventions to address larger cultural and political issues, and while it doesn't miss a cliche, it also invests every one with vigorous conviction. CHAK DE! INDIA's release was scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Indian independence. (In English and subtitled Hindi) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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