I've never played a sport in my life. I haven't watched many either because I would always rather be watching a film. But a sports film is something else.
A good sports movie works like the rajma chawal made at home. It's comfort food. The beats are familiar. The lack of surprise is soothing. We know that the underdog will succeed – though Nitesh Tiwari skillfully twisted this around in Chhichhore, making coming in second, a life lesson, which in fact was a more valuable success. But that film, like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, is more about friendship and school days.It is a snapshot of a period in time. In a pure sports film, we are certain that the underdog will vanquish insurmountable odds and win, exemplifying once again, the triumph of the will.
Which is exactly the adrenaline-shot we need right now as we battle, isolated at home, an unseen virus with no vaccine or cure, and our own anxiety, loneliness and fear. We have to believe that we will defeat this villain and who better to inspire, invigorate and cheer us on than coach Kabir Khan.
Chak De! India, the story of a disgraced hockey captain, leading a ragtag team of women to victory in the hockey World Cup, makes me happy. Here's why:
What a collection of ferocious warriors! A character calls them 'rakshason ki sena' and they happily live up to that name. Director Shimit Amin and writer Jaideep Sahni threw in all types – Balbir (played by Tanya Abrol), the hot-headed,bulldog Punjaban who never backs away from a fight; Komal (played by Chitrashi Rawat), the no-nonsense Haryanvi who learns the true meaning of being a team player; Bindia (played by Shilpa Shukla), the defiant, senior player who memorably inspires the coach to deliver that killer line: Har team mein sirf ek hi gunda ho sakta hai aur iss team ka gunda mein hoon; Preety (played by Sagarika Ghatge) who is dating an entitled, supremely annoying cricket player but dumps him with such aplomb during the end-credits, that you want to cheer; and the girls from Jharkhand – Rani Dispotta (Seema Azmi) and Soimoi Kerketa (Nisha Nair). Their names and their determination made them distinctive. These girls learn through the course of the film, how to be world-class players, true sportswomen and full-blooded citizens of India. My favorite scene is the one in which they get together and beat up boys who are making lewd gestures at some of their teammates. That is as satisfying as any of their victories on the field.
I consider Chak de! India to be Shah Rukh's finest hour in film. We get India's biggest romantic star shorn of romance, vanity, glamour, even his signature stylized mannerisms – there is no opportunity for the outstretched arms pose because the love story is between Kabir and hockey, Kabir and his country, Kabir and his quest for victory. Shah Rukh, handsome but frayed, finds the hollowness and ache in Kabir. His eyes reflect the humiliation of his own defeat, the scars he carries like a shield. So when the girls win the World Cup, Kabir doesn't jump up or cheer. Instead, he staggers back, almost like he has been physically hit. Kabir is also a great champion of women. He urges the girls to get on the field and prove wrong all the people who have told them that women can't do anything. I hope Kabir lived happily ever after. We need more like him – in the movies and in life.
I get goosebumps every time I watch it. The sports film climactic locker room speech might be a cliché but this is one of the best. It's not long and yet it lands a punch. Kabir urges the girls to play the best hockey of their lives. He tells them that if they do that, it doesn't matter if they win or lose, no one can take these 70 minutes away from them. He inspires them to be their best selves.
Chak de! India makes me believe, at least momentarily, that if we stay the course, we will win. And what could be happier than that?