The Shah Rukh Khan-starrer featuring an impressive ensemble cast has its flaws but the film rose to redefine the very genre of sports drama in Hindi cinema.
Feminism or arguably faux feminism, the partition of India, religious discrimination, the chameleonic face of the media, bureaucratic and administrative flaws in Indian sports association, the unequal valuation of sports other than cricket in India - all of these are underpinned in a disgraced hockey player’s story to rally and unite an out-of-control team of players from different states to bring glory to the nation by leading them to lift the Hockey World Cup trophy.
The 2007 Shimit Amin directorial was one of those defining sports films that strengthened the genre of sports drama after Lagaan, in arguably more far-reaching ways. The Shah Rukh Khan-starrer that featured an impressive ensemble cast, (for the fact that most of the onscreen hockey players were making their on screen debut) is not without its share of flaws but backed by the well-written script, the compelling plot, career-best performance by Khan, and rousing soundtrack by Salim-Sulaiman, it stays to be a winning watch to date.
Chak De! India just turned 14, and we celebrate the win-win with a few special moments from the film that not only were well-crafted and weaved into the narrative but also transcended the immediacy of the plot as touchpoints for much more than just that.
The ‘Team ka Gunda’ moment
Easily one of the most popular dialogues of the sports drama, this is the precise moment in the film when things start to fall apart between Kabir Khan and the girls. As the training gets intense and more gruelling than before, Kabir picks on every player on the team, coming down harshly on them individually for flaws in their game. ‘Har team mein bas ek hi gunda ho sakta hai, aur iss team ka gunda main hoon,’ come the words rushing through in calm, controlled anger in Kabir’s voice. As the one-liner that serves as the foresightful bitter medicine to unite the girls past their differences, it’s a key driver in the overall plot of the film.
The ‘Saat Saal Baad’ moment
At the precise juncture when the Indian women’s hockey team collectively decides to call it quits on having Kabir Khan as their coach, and spell it out to him, a sighing Kabir mouths the words citing the reason for his return in the game, seven years after the disgrace branded on his name and game. As he speaks his heart out in very few but heartfelt words, the camera pans on the girls and their changing expressions. Playing as one for the team, as one nation in one team are some of the founding ideals of being a sportsperson and the scene blends that with the defining pulse of the plot seamlessly—Kabir’s route to resurgence and lost glory through the Indian Women Hockey team’s winning of the Hockey World Cup. The moment also marks the turning point of the coach-player bond in the film, with the girls experiencing a change of mind about the mentorship, the player and the man Kabir Khan.
Kabir’s reaction to the girls winning the World Cup final
Nothing is said and nothing dramatic is done as the camera closes in on Kabir Khan, seconds after the Indian women’s hockey team snatches the winning trophy from the fan favourites and defending champions, Australia. Moist eyes that look everywhere; to the skies and at the Indian flag, Kabir sighs and sits down on the podium, as the roaring chorus of ‘India, India’ booms in the background against the Indian flag. And we know; we can instantly feel the enormity of the weight and pressure that had weighed down on his life all this while till this point, ever since the controversy and the unfair media furore, the social opprobrium that took his glory away. As the weight is now lifted off him, we feel something lighten up within, organically.
The opening and closing scenes
Chak De! India opens by showing an ongoing Hockey World Cup final match between India and Pakistan. Helmed by captain Kabir Khan, the team loses the final and Kabir has to bear the brunt of it thereon. He is branded an anti-national overnight, more so because of his religion. His image and name are blackened and character certificates issued verbally over newshour debates and burnt effigies, in a chilling reflection of similar instances of modern-day India, albeit in different contexts. Kabir is ousted from his neighbourhood with his crying mother. A visibly-disturbed Kabir locks his ancestral home, and is shown quietly taking his mother away with his scooter, amid a gathering of people in his neighbourhood. Internalising it all through gritted teeth, with not a single word, until a man scribbles the word ‘gaddar’ on his home wall, Shah Rukh’s Kabir Khan speaks fire and grief through his eyes. The scene finds its cathartic closure at the end of the film when Kabir is shown quietly returning to the neighbourhood and his home with his mother by his side, pushing the scooter on. Only this time the same people are paving the way for him with admiration on their faces. As he takes his mother into their home, snippets from news programmes uttering changed words fall on our ears. A child is shown erasing the word ‘gaddar’ from the wall; Kabir smiles and hands over his hockey stick to him.
Hugging it out: the track of Preity Sabrawal and Komal Chautala
It’s not just a scene of two players setting aside their personal issues to play together for the cause of the team, but a snapshot of a moment of genuine sisterhood between two women, where the two of them transpose the sacrifices for the men and families in their lives to the cause of the game. Rivalry, jealousy and stinging competition between Chitrashi Rawat’s Komal Chautala and Sagarika Ghatge’s Preity Sabrawal evaporate into thin air as the two put their strengths forward for the game, the team and the nation. ‘Ja dikha de uss launde ko’, the line mouthed by Komal as she passes the ball to Preity, is followed by Preity passing on her chance to Komal to score in the tie-breaker round. The film was also well-layered on account of the infighting and interpersonal bonding between the girls and these two moments seal the strained equation between one of those pairs, Preity and Komal, drawing a full circle through the closing embrace and their beginning of a warm friendship.
Vidya talking about her family with Kabir Khan
Vidya Malvade, who plays Vidya Sharma, the captain and goalie of the team has a heart-to-heart on the domestic troubles versus her stubborn will and passion for the game of hockey. In a broad sweep of a few dialogues, the skilfully etched moment traverses the reality of the average working woman in India, who is to keep on conforming to the socially-prescribed roles for her, a wife, a daughter-in-law tending to the family over and above everything else and more, to the sheer lack of due recognition for the national sports of India, especially more so for the women’s hockey.
Just before the day of the final showdown, of the final match between India and Australia for the Hockey World Cup, Shah Rukh’s Kabir Khan walks in calmly into the locker room and delivers those powerful lines, as the camera pans over to the girls and back at him. The rest, as they say went down to stick in our memory ever since, you might be already mouthing the words even as you read this. For this is one pep-talk on a World Cup game on the surface transcends into the invigorating mantra for life, for the lives of every woman and every endeavouring individual who attempts to do something; to spur them to own their part in their work and give it their all. Shah Rukh Khan owns the scene, but well that is true for the film as a whole too of course.