Sunday, September 02, 2007

Chak De India****

After a few false starts in Asoka, Swades and Paheli, Shahrukh Khan, the designated new-age box-office successor to Amitabh Bachchan, possibly found his own response to his nearest competitor, Aamir Khan's Lagaan and Rang de Basanti. In the new century, Aamir has really struck a golden balance between critical and commercial acclaim, and SRK has not really coped up (an absolute shame that his Swades failed the commercial test). He had a wonderful chance with Hirani's Munnabhai series (where he was originally supposed to play the title character), before his back gave away.

Apart from for SRK, Chak De was a movie under immense pressure to deliver for the producers, Yashraj. India's premier movie banner had just delivered a couple of box-office duds in Ta Ra Rum Pum and Jhoom Bharabar Jhoom (quite shocking that JBJ failed to even garner an initial). Aditya Chopra was terribly nervous, and he pulled of the first set of promos (my favourite song from the soundtrack, Hockey Doongi, where Coach SRK introduces the entire team, does not even feature in the movie), to replace it with a more conventional peppy number (the title song used in the key moments of the movie; must admit, impressive lines, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, is it the time to do or die).

At its very core, Chak De follows the path set by the other two successful sporting movies of recent times, Lagaan and Iqbal. An underdog (or a team of them) set about battling great odds to achieve an almost impossible task. While in the first two, the task was almost a matter of life (or-doom), in Chak De, the quest is more in the realms of sporting glory (however impossible it might be). The variation comes with the sport under question, where the national game, hockey, replaces the national passion, cricket. More importantly, the version chosen is the more unglamorous one played by women. (To get the context, the Indian Men's hockey team has never failed to participate in an Olympic Game, while the Women's team is aspiring for their maiden appearance at Beijing in 2008).

SRK plays Kabir Khan, a character loosely inspired from former India goalie, Mir Ranjan Negi. Negi was a part of the team that lost the Asian Games final in 1982 at New Delhi to Pakistan 7-1. Like Mohd. Azharuddin fourteen years later (when just after a heady victory against Pakistan in the quarter-finals, Azhar's team lost to Sri Lanka at Calcutta in the Wills World Cup), the blame for the loss was laid at Negi's doorstep.

Negi was accused of fixing the match (a charge which turned out to be actually true in Azhar's case, though more for his individual performances), and was branded a traitor (because he was a Muslim goalkeeper, though the Indian Captain Zafar Iqbal could have been similarly accused). (Read Negi's interview at http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?newsid=1115018, to figure out how close to reality the movie was). Negi found his redemption when he helped the Men's team win Asian Games gold in 1998 (the match was won on penalty strokes, when Negi was the Goal-keeping coach) and the unheralded Women's team to the Commonwealth Games Gold in 2002.

In the movie, Coach Kabir Khan becomes the only volunteer for the Women's Hockey team (I could not fathom as to why does he choose this method of redemption over the Men's Hockey team). He gets on his job using a mix of Greg Chappell (challenging established stars) and Kapil Dev (play with heart). His entire approach is also coated in nationalistic colours, tackling the problem of provincial loyalties (which is an issue which possibly extends across sports in India).

The great part of Kabir Khan is that he does not really establish a personal rapport with his players (like say Naseer in Iqbal). He has a soft moment with the goalie Vidya (Malvade), even appointing her the Captain, but that is also more due to her level-headedness. He puts the established star Bindia in her place by benching her from practice, as she wanted to stick to her preferred forward slot. When she is destructive for the team in the opening match of the tournament, he benches her from the entire World Cup. However, when he needs her creativity and experience in the crucial semi-final against Korea, he goes back to her. There is no melodramatic explanation, and most importantly, it is never really shown that Bindia makes up with Kabir even after the Team's victory.

I always have a problem when sports movies show inspiration overtaking systems. It can be slightly misleading, but I guess there is no other way of depicting it in cinema. In their quest for the World Cup, apart from a marathon 10-km run in early mornings (in which the coach also participates), Kabir Khan is not shown doing much on the fitness front (a must in today's professional sports). He does give a stirring speech just before the final (possibly very similar to what Steve Gerrard would have said during the now legendary Champions' League half-time of 2005). However, his entire success is built primarily on sporting technicalities (and like in Lagaan, they are maintained quite well for hockey here), and lots of hard work (the team practices when the rivals party, shades of the Reliance Cup winning Aussie team of 1987).

Performancewise, I preferred SRK in Swades to Chak De (since that seems to be the most obvious comparison). Of the 16-member team, the Haryanvi Komal (who actually looks quite cute) and the hot-headed Punjabi Balbir get the most humorous lines. Shilpa Shukla as the egoistical Bindia is the most authentic portrayal. I also like the lasses who play the Telugu Reddy and the Jharkhandi Soi Moi. Most importantly, Negi (who coached all the models/actresses in hockey) has done a fantastic job, and like in Iqbal, the sport looks superbly authentic. The climax is suitably dramatic, but my favourite moment came just before that, when hockey technicality (of the goal keeper charging a sole striker) met female bonding, for the equalising goal (and a dramatic cinematic moment).

The real stars of the movie lie behind the screen, writer Jaideep Sahni (for a simple well-etched story) and director Shimit Amin (a superb followup to his impressive debut in Ab Tak Chappan). They both have done a great job of coupling realistic sports with impressive cinema. The Women's team shows the joi de vivre of a team of amateurs (and hence the girls who are initially benched for indiscipline are so keen to get back into practice). When they take on their Men counterpart in a hockey match (just to prove that they should be participating in the World Cup), you feel it is far-fetched. However, the sporty salutations of the Men after defeating them in a very close match, makes the entire scene superbly surreal.

At an overall level, the greatest success of the movie lies in the fact that it does for Sports in India what thousands of duffer-posts on Worldview can never hope to do. Our English news channel have been celebrating all big sporting successes with the soundtrack of the movie. And there have been quite a few since the movie came out - the Indian football team winning an international tournament after donkey's years (in an unbelievably charged atmosphere at New Delhi); the Men's hockey team pummeling a Sri Lankan team with 20 goals.

Last year, Rang De Basanti inspired a candlelight vigil at India Gate for Jessica Lal. Following Chak De, I keenly look forward to more reel-life imitating sporting successes for India.

8 comments:

Shuchi said...

I enjoyed CDI a lot as well, and for me this was SRK's best.

I can think of several reasons why chooses the Women's Team over the Men's. There might have been other contenders for the Men's Coach position while there were no takers for the Women's, so he was sure to be given the post. Or - the Women's Team faced greater ridicule and were "worse" as compared to the Men's Team: to coach them to victory would make his redemption more satisfying.

Very nicely written review :)

Citizen Shaker said...

It is actually a matter of conjecturing what SRK was upto for seven years. In real life, in his situation, he might have been coaching local teams..And choosing a women's team was still fraught with risks, as he simply might never have made it to front-pages with this means of redemption.

Amit Bajaj said...

Very good man.
Now eagerly waiting for your review of RGV's Aag!!

svety said...

Great review abhi, as usual..

Let me just add to the softer elements...

To me, just because a movie uses a sport as the central pivot does not make it a sport movie..and that is the difference between a Lagaan & a Chak de...u put it beautifully when u write..."While in the first two, the task was almost a matter of life (or-doom), in Chak De, the quest is more in the realms of sporting glory"...In lagaan,aamir does not go about making a point about hockey, but in Chak De, Sharukh does, at many junctures..Hence, personally, for me, Chak De is the first sport movie that comes of the hindi cinema industry.
There are afew moments that stand out in the movie

the song that plays in the background, all 4 lines of it, "maula mere lele meri jaan" has to be one of the most beautiful and meaningful refrains in hindi cinema...the director does not need to waste time showing what shahrukh did in the 7 odd yrs he was missing from the scene..he relies on this refrain, this song and srk's dramatic persuasiveness to take the story through..and they do so, so wonderfully..there is no sermonising on the angst of being a muslim in a "secular" country..there are just afew precious lines...let me put them in..

tere sang kheli holi
tere sang ki diwali
tere angano ki chaya
tere sang saawan aaya

pher le chahe tu nazrein chahe chura le

laut ke tu aayega re shart laga le

teeja tera rang tha main to
teeja tera rang tha main to…..

jiya tere dhang se main to
tu hi tha maula tu hi aan
Maula mere le le meri jaan
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….

mitti meri thi tu hi
wahin mere ghee aur churee
wahin raanzhen mere wahin heer
wahi savaiyaan wahin kheer

tujhse hi rooth na re tuzhe hi manana

tera mera naata koi dooja na jaana
teeja tera rang tha main to
jiya tere dhang se main to
tu hi tha maula tu hi aan
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….
Maula mere le le meri jaan…….

U make an extremely valid observation when u read into Kabeer Khan's character. It remains true to what hes been through in the last 10 odd years..to feel accepted, taste, stardom, only to discover that trust is success dependant and, acceptance only conditional would have hit him hard..and therefore when he comes back in his new avataar..personal relationships at best can be described as illusionary...

I disagree with u when u say that inspiration overtakes systems...i don't think that comes out anywhere in the movie...the ladies are forced to follow an extemely rigorous schedule which leads into srk's resignation scene..the point is made by bindia naik when she says that, do we let him run things his way or do we go back to the way we were..the angst is against the regimented approach, the systems hes putting in place..so i don't think at any point, the director wanted to undermine systems in favour of inspiration doing the hard work...and when the australian team takes the scientific approach of analysing the opposition thru various "system work" and helping the coach perform on ground with enuf back end support..its also a reflection on the infrastructure, the support with which teams lesser advantaged than cricket go out on the field with...the context should not be forgotten..here is a sport, a team which has to fight for space with the local ram lila wala..so hoping for investments of even a basic kind would seem ambitious..

Although i prefer to believe that an inspired coach is more effective than a robotic one...but then did i mention that he has to look as edible as srk does in this movie..haha

Citizen Shaker said...

The point I am making about sports movies is using sports as a central context (like say Karan Johar makes his movies using romance as the theme). Chak De is a purer sports movie, more of say Hip Hip Hurray (have rally forgotten that flick) than Lagaan..but in Lagaan the trick was using cricket in the last century to prove that the battle could be won.

Why sports movie need to be more realistic than say an action flick like Sholay or Main Hoon Na, because the context becomes closer to reality. You can have crap like Awwal Number, or show genuine underdog struggle like here (or even in Lagaan and Iqbal). And while the other two are definitely fictional, Chak De can happen (and has happened). My discomfort (not disagreement) arises when the Indian junta, which actually thinks sports is a cakewalk, starts getting the wrong message (hence when our teams lose, the hungama, without any context in mind).

You judge poetry much better. But the point of Kabeer missing in action, to stay real, hope he was actually coaching, maybe his local club. It is easier said than done that one can simply walk back after a hiatus.

Anonymous said...

It is a pathetic review
MIR RANJAN NEGI s " NOT A MOSLIM" !!! I wonder why the author failed to check the very basic facts before writing a review?
secondly it was never a men's team!

the undercurrent which is missed by most reviews are few basic facts
like.. Zafar is the central theme of the picture not the negi as the world is made to believe, Mr. Zafar Iqbal is modest enough never to utter this but the nation s not blind ! The plight of a moslim coach under fire, a coach who was the best FORWARD of all tmes, highest scorer of goals! ( Negiwas a little known goalkeeper the only fame rather shame he was branded wth was after Asian games-82, t s like Zidane v/s Mittrazzi in world cup football final, if one knows mittrazi then it is because of his demerit not any merit.

Citizen Shaker said...

Anon - I believe you might be right about Negi's faith (I am unsure), but the moot point is he was definitely blamed (check this out http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/fr/2007/08/10/stories/2007081050570100.htm).
Zafar Iqbal has admitted this on record, that Negi got the entire crap (as I said in my review, just like Azhar got it at Calcutta, when the entire team was involved in fielding first, there was no religion factor there). And while on celluloid they might have combined Negi and Iqbal, the movie can claim to be a close-to-reality fictional representation. The authenticity of the game and the possibilities it generates is the central theme to feel good about.

And by the way, it is Materazzi whom Zidane head-butted, not Mitrazzi. While most might not know him as well as Zidane, Materazzi is a reputed Inter Milan defender.

Citizen Shaker said...

and my sources tell me Negi was a Muslim..