Chak De! India
Rated: Unrated (but very safe); Directed by Shimit Amin; Starring Shahrukh Khan, Shilpa Shukla, Sagarika Ghatge, Chitrashi Rawat, Punjabi Balbir
Movies about sports teams training and eventually competing in a big game are a time honored genre. You know the type of film. A ragtag team that has no chance of winning somehow comes together thanks to a dedicated coach and surprises everyone. Well, this genre transcends national boundaries. In Bollywood, the biggest movie industry in the world, this plot plays out in a charming movie. Chak De! India hits a big chunk of the clichés common to this genre, but at least it does it colorfully with a fun attitude.
For those of you who have never seen Indian films, they can be a real treat. No short 90-minute movies allowed; audiences want a lot of movie for their money. Music is integral to movies with the stars often breaking out into song and dance. Chak De! India (translation: “Come On! India”) dispenses with some of these traditions. No one sings or dances in big musical numbers. There is plenty of music, but only in the background. It is over two-hours long, but not the usual three-hours as in many Bollywood films. Best of all, Chak De! India is very approachable for Western viewers. There is something about the travails of a sports team that rises above language barriers.
When star field-hockey player (yes, field hockey – hey, at least it’s not cricket!), Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan), helps the Indian team to lose the World Championship final, he’s vilified by everyone, called a “traitor” by his neighbors, and must move his mother from her family home. Let me tell you, you don’t mess with a man’s mother in Indian movies. A few years later Kabir reappears to take on the task of coaching the girl’s national field-hockey team. Losers on the international level, and fighting Indian sexism, no one expects them to stand a chance at the World Championships.
All right, we all know the clichés, don’t we? The teammates will not like each other, athlete’s egos clash with the coach’s new style of doing things, their first few games will be disasters, and at some point a group of people will slowly clap in approval of the team’s pluckiness. All of them show up in this movie. Anyone who has seen the hockey film, Miracle, will recognize many scenes.
What this movie does have besides the clichés are some engaging performances, especially Shahrukh Khan (a mega star in India); Shilpa Shukla as the athlete with the biggest ego; and Sagarika Ghatge and Chitrashi Rawat as rivals on the team. The music is still there, as part of montages. Best of all, though cliché-ridden, it’s a thoroughly satisfying story. Chak De! India is the kind of movie that leaves you smiling while humming to the theme song.