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15 years of Chak De! India: Interesting facts about the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer

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.

15 years of Chak De! India: Interesting facts about the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer

Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De! India/Twitter

  • Team OTTplay

Last Updated: 12.41 PM, Aug 10, 2022

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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. 

SRK
SRK

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. 

Chak De! India poster
Chak De! India poster

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:

  • Salman Khan was initially cast in the lead role. He later backed out due to creative differences with the director.
  • Screenwriter Jaideep was inspired to make a film about the Indian women's hockey team after reading a brief article about their victory at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
  • Jaideep Sahni based Kabir Khan on Indian hockey coach Maharaj Krishnan Kaushik, who was a member of the team that won gold in Moscow in 1980. After hearing the plot, Kaushik suggested that Jaideep Sahni meet hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi, who was accused of rigging the match against Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games.

  • In a speech, SRK stated that Chak De! was originally an inspirational martial cry used by Sikh soldiers while lifting logs to build bridges across rivers.
  • Due to a scheduling conflict with Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, SRK first declined the role of Kabir Khan; but eventually, came on board, as the actor used to play hockey in college. 
  • Chak De was a risky move for SRK because it deviated from his usual romantic image and featured no lip synched songs or a single female lead.
  • The sport action director, Rob Miller, who later worked on films such as Bhaag Milka Bhaag and Mary Kom, choreographed the sports scenes. He had assisted Negi in training the actors.

  • Before principal photography began, the actors, including SRK and the rest of the supporting cast, went through a series of rehearsals and script readings. Chitrashi, Sandia, and Raynia were cast because they were talented hockey players.
  • Freida Pinto had tried out for a role, but she did not make the final cut of the star cast.
  • It took six months to cast the 16 actresses as hockey players. Amin described the process as difficult and strenuous because they needed to play and act.

  • Negi recalled that everything in Chak De was pre-planned, including SRK's missed penalty stroke. That shot alone took them nearly 20 hours because the director was determined that it be realistic.
  • The girls attended a four-month training camp where they learned the rules of the game, took acting lessons, and adhered to a strict diet. Safety precautions were also taken. The actresses awoke at 4 am and went to bed at 11pm. They were instructed not to trim their nails or brows in order to resemble real hockey players.
  • When Sahni and Aditya Chopra were deciding who should direct Chak De, Aditya recalled Shimit Amin and said the best person would be the one who directed Ab Tak Chchappan. Sahni agreed right away.

  • In the final match sequence, which was shot in Sydney, Amin wanted to show a full stadium cheering for the team. SRK asked the team to use his celebrity status to draw people to the stadium. The team announced that SRK would be in Sydney at the Olympic Hockey Stadium. People came in large numbers, as expected.
  • A hockey game lasts only two hours, but the unit was on the field for eight hours. SRK appeared on the ground several times during the shoot to keep the audience engaged. 
  • Masochon Zimik, who played Manipuri player Molly Zimik in Chak De India, never appeared in another film after that. She returned to her home state of Manipur. She now works for an NGO.
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