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Scoring the final goal

Mir Ranjan Negi is the hockey coach who inspired Shah Rukh Khan’s role in Chak De! India, writes Shrikant Bhagvatula.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2007 05:31 IST
Shrikant Bhagvatula

It all started a few hours after India’s worst-ever hockey defeat — to archrivals Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games final at the National Stadium in New Delhi. Mir Ranjan Negi, the Indian goalkeeper, already disconsolate by the stunning 7-1 defeat, had gone to Khan Market with some teammates. Some people recognised Negi and started heckling him for letting in the goals, blaming him for the defeat and calling him a cheater.

Negi’s nightmare had just started. The vicious allegations continued and prematurely ended his playing career with the Indian team.

Negi had buried those bitter memories a long time back, but they must all be flooding his mind once again, with the new Shah Rukh Khan-starrer, Chak De! India, opening this week. In the film, SRK’s character, Kabir Khan, is loosely based on Negi. Of course, the Yashraj Films production also reconstructs by way of fiction Negi’s glory days to follow — his return to bigtime hockey against all odds as coach of the Asian Games gold medal-winner Indian men’s hockey team in 1998, and the Afro Asian Games gold-winning women’s team in 2003 at Hyderabad.

The film also gave Negi a chance to tell his side of the story. Still, over the past eight-odd months since Negi got associated with the film, reliving those nightmares was not easy. The unsubstantiated taunts accusing him of being ‘the man who took money to concede goals against Pakistan’ traumatised him, so much so that he was afraid to even come out of his house during those days. Even his family had a tough time. “He was wrongly blamed for the failure of the entire team,” says Zafar Iqbal, who was Negi’s captain on that fateful day in 1982. “There were all kinds of allegations. Some even claimed that he was seen coming out of the Pakistan High Commission on the eve of the match, which is rubbish.”

Friend and teammate of the 1982 squad, Joaquim Carvalho, is the current national coach who played a crucial role in getting Negi back to hockey. “Undoubtedly, Negi had a bad day in the office. He made mistakes, but so did other players in the midfield and defence,” says Carvalho. "Due to the allegations, he sunk into depression and stopped playing hockey altogether. We had to coax him to return to hockey."

Right now, Negi is finishing his autobiography. The release of the book should complete his journey of redemption.