A few days back I happened to catch the movie Chak De India on television . It brought back many memories.
We lived in another city when this movie first hit the theatres, and a friend dragged me with her to catch the first show. I went expecting just another SRK flick–the reviews had yet to appear in the papers–and remember being taken completely by surprise.
How often do you see a Hindi movie without as much as a whiff of romance?
In which girls thrash ‘eve-teasers’ black and blue with hockey sticks?
In which Shah Rukh Khan is so thoroughly deglamorized, he walks around sporting a week old stubble! Not once does he even flash the trademark lopsided, dimpled smile that his innumerable fans love.
He looks lean, haggard, tense, bubbling with the energy that comes with silent rage–very much the part of the hockey coach burdened with a past and willing to push himself to any limit to redeem himself. A man with a mission–and the mission is to mould a team of sixteen woman hockey players coming from all corners of the country, and as disparate a bunch as possible, into a world-cup winning team.
Shah Rukh does not ham or overact, for a change. He actually gives one of the best performances of his career.
The movie touches a chord at several levels. The very fact that nobody ever breaks into a song or dance–the songs only ever play in the background, which is different–gives the movie a certain realistic feel. The casting is perfect, with everybody looking the part. And while the movie does inevitably nod to some stereotypes–the bristly Haryanvi, the sturdy, hot-headed Punjabi with a hearty appetite–it manages to take a dig at a whole lot of other stereotypes, myths and biases.
You cringe when the Andhra girl is asked if she is a Madrasi by the camp manager. You cringe harder when players from the northeast are ‘welcomed to India’ by the same camp manager, and later when roadside hoodlums single them out, due to their different looks, for vicious harassing . You cringe , because it all rings true.
And there is this married player–the captain of the team– whose husband wants her to chuck the tour to be able to attend a wedding in his family. Sounds familiar? The more things change, the more they remain the same, apparently.
A player whose boyfriend is a well-known cricketer wants her to give up her career for his sake. It is heartening to see her walk out on him with dignity.
The team bristles with skirmishes between the players–some minor, others not so minor. There is the eternal older players/younger players divide–the older ones proud of their experience, the younger ones of their raw energy. A fierce clash of egos between two forwards threatens to jeopardize the whole team–whoever said having boulder-sized egos was a male prerogative–and it requires all the skills of the coach to knock some sense into them while there is still time.
And I love this song ‘Badal pe paon hain’, which comes when the girls beat heavy odds to finally make it to the World Cup tournament.
Watch the newer players, probably abroad for the first time, looking around with wide-eyed awe, while the senior ones sport a casual, slightly supercilious been-there-done-that look. All of them look happy, though, and determined to scale higher peaks.
Apt song for The International Women’s Day, what say?