Chak De! India
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Chitrashi Rawat
Direction: Shimit Amin
Milk shake, rattle and roll. Sporty girls are bashing up a bunch of eve-teasers in a fast-food restaurant. The hockey coach doesn’t intervene, whips on his dark glasses and smiles lightly. His girls have scored a hit.
Cheers for Chak De! India, which may be predictable but compels you to root for a team of losers whom only an earth-angel can save from disastrous defeat. Written by Jaideep Saini and directed by Shimit Amin, this inspirational effort echoes Hollywood’s Hardball, The Replacements, and Escape to Victory whose influence has already been evidenced in Lagaan.
But what the hell? If a story is retold with varying riffs, a sliver of imagination and sufficient skill, just chill.
Over to Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), the disgraced captain of the Indian hockey team, who’s out to redeem himself after seven years of vanvas. He lands the assignment, just by a whisker, of coaching the raggedy Indian women’s hockey team. So far, so hopeful.
The 16 girls from various states are a mess – either too raw or too cocksure. Begins the training which does get far too protracted, what with the girls snarling, whining and ready to tear one’s eyes out. Slowly but surely, Khan makes them understand their strengths and above all, their Indianness which alone can get them to the winning goal.
<b1>Obstinately perhaps, the focus remains on Kabir as the coach. There’s no backstory, no glimpses into his heart and mind. Only his mother pops up at the outset and at the end, full stop. In addition, the introduction of the girls – through hideously antiquated wipes – doesn’t make you connect to them, except with the ones who’re either too nice or too much spice. And pray, why linger unduly over the kabhi-bedroom-kabhi-ignore routine of one of the girls with a creepy cricketer?
Chalo Australia, then. Now, you’re hooked as the team takes on the Goliaths, thanks to the coach’s psychological jugglery. The sequences showing Kabir Khan losing his cool, his request to two competitive players to see the larger picture and the finale’s clarion call, are marvellously done, often making your eyes moist. And then, you’re at the edge of the seat for the decisive showdown intricately crafted by sports action director Rob Miller.
Auspiciously, the director fits in strong comments on national unity, gender equality, secularism and team spirit.
Shah Rukh Khan is outstanding – it’s a performance that is comparable and at points even more internalised than the one in Swades. He carries the proverbial burden of the project on his shoulders. Intense and steel-like, he stays in character throughout, shunning any traces of glamour.
Of the girls, the little stick of dynamite Chitrashi Rawat, the independent-minded Sagarika Ghatge, the team’s zip-unzip vamp Shilpa Shukla and the anger-spewing Tania Abrol are marvellous discoveries.
Yup, so go for it!