The film tells the story of an underdog women's hockey team that overcomes all odds to win the world championship, led by their resilient coach Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). However, at its core, it is about people letting go of their prejudices in order to unite as one.
Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De! India/Twitter
Last Updated: 12.41 PM, Aug 10, 2022
Chak De! India tells the story of an underdog women's hockey team that overcomes all odds to win the world championship, led by their resilient coach Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). However, at its core, it is about people letting go of their prejudices in order to unite as one.
Before Chak De! India, Hindi cinema had plenty of gripping sports dramas. Lagaan and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar were two films that made a significant impact. However, as with sports dramas, they tend to be about the underdog overcoming the seemingly insurmountable. The overarching theme of these films is defeating the story's villain. This is where Chak De! India excels; thanks to Jaideep Sahni's original story/screenplay. There is no actual antagonist to be defeated. It is not interested in the traditional underdog trope, but rather in looking within and addressing issues that the country faces, such as bigotry, casual sexism, administrative politics in sport, regional bias, and rivalry within the team, among others. It is either a coach's team or a captain's team, as the saying goes in sports. Although the team is clearly the coach's, and the film is primarily about Kabir's journey, and focuses on the women and how their collective progress allows Kabir to be redeemed.
The film works because, through some very clever manoeuvres, it conveys a message of unity in diversity. The performances and casting are flawless. Chak De! forced Shah Rukh Khan to lose his ego and shoulder the film with 16 new actors, none of whom were romantically paired with him. His performance as the brooding, tough, gruffy alpha yet emotional man seeking redemption is still regarded as one of his best. There were also some intense and heartfelt dialogues; but it's Salim-music Suleiman's that keeps Chak De! India alive today, with the title track becoming the country's unofficial sports anthem. The film made it acceptable to have sports stories about women. It drew attention to sports other than cricket, redefining how genre films were made.
Kabir Khan almost disappears into the background, focusing instead on bringing the team together and bringing out the best in the team. Though we will never forget the injustice meted out to Kabir, and we are sure he hasn't either, he prefers to focus on his goal with all the professionalism the world has to offer. His patriotism is now solely focused on his job; he has no need to do anything else; and this is true for all of us.
It's a once-in-a-lifetime performance, an unrivalled, beautifully written character with a range of emotions that Khan brings to life with aplomb. Watch him in the final few minutes of the match, when Kabir Khan's team finally wins and Khan sobs. Pure brilliance.
Some of the facts that we know about Chak De! India: