Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Anatomy of Chak De India

Chak De India is a terribly manipulative girl-power, sports-triumph, spirit-of-the-nation movie. It's crammed full of clichés and overwrought issues that are resolved with pat and simplistic solutions. And it shamelessly plays on your sense of poverty, ethnicity, religion and country. And to all of that I say: its about time.



Yes, there was Lagaan and it was much fun to watch, but those shots of Aamir Khan swinging the bat like a dhobhi in the name of cricket made me cringe. Chak De is refreshing in this regard - the players on the field look like they could really play the game. And even though no set-piece sport like cricket can match the energy of a free-wheeling game like hockey on film, its still no mean feat to capture the kind of action that goes with the decidedly un-glossy staging of the movie.

Director Shimit Amin, an editor who is on his sophomore directorial effort, forgoes almost any semblence of a constructed set, choosing instead to film on location in stadiums, in restaurants, even inside cramped lodges and grimy lockers. It must have been a logistical nightmare in terms of the weather, conditions and crowd-control - but it pays off well, lending the movie an edge that helps you get behind the theme, about the game being more than just a game.

For the first half of the movie, Amin depicts Shahrukh Khan, playing disgraced India captain Kabir Khan, trying to whip his women's Team India into shape - coaxing, then scolding, and finally tricking them into working as a team. And as soon as that is done, Amin moves the action to Australia where the women will play the Hockey World Championships. Here he plays his trump card.

The Indian women are given funny looks in the hotel lobby, they look at amazement as women from other teams pound away on the latest gym equipment, they watch the beautifully sculpted body of a swimmer cleave the water with awe. In the first game against Australia, they are pounded mercilessly - Kabir is unable to compete with the slick use of technology employed by the Australian coach. The players are unable to communicate with the referee, the coach is not assertive enough and India end up getting the rough end of several decisions. "How did you ever make it to the World Championships?" the Australian coach scoffs at Kabir, completing his humiliation.

Anyone who has followed India's international sporting fortunes in any sport is familiar with these themes. But it also evokes more universal expatriate feelings of displacement and self-doubt. This is Amin's way of getting the viewers behind his team. It works spectacularly well.

There has been universal praise for Shahrukh in this movie for his underplayed turn. His role is infused with enough showy nobleness and fortitude that it's likely the halo will rub off on his performance. But to be fair, he is also rather convincing. And when reflecting back on the movie, I think the key is that he shares the screen with others in a way he might not have had to in his past movies. Even in key SRK scenes, the situation is staged as bigger than the person and this prevents him from having to drain the emotion from the moment singlehandedly. This help he gets allows his shtick to feel different.

Finally a clutch of very charming women have been tapped to play the members of the fateful Indian hockey team. Spurred on by pumping guitars and thumping drums, they deliver rousing messages of girl power and can-do spirit. Shilpa Shukla - as a jaded senior in the ranks who has given up on the game - is particularly sparkling. The fact that the writers didn't give her a back story, instead of constructing other somewhat frivolous ones, is probably the only serious blemish in a hugely enjoyable movie.

Also:
Read Priya's more visceral review of the movie

32 comments:

Manish said...

I still remember - my father was very confident that Mir Ranjan Negi, the Indian goalkeeper in the 1982 Asiad had been bribed, when he let in seven goals in seventy minutes.

I thought Negi's life was far more dramatic than in the movie. His coached girls went on to win the Commonwealth Games gold in 2002. But then two years later his 19 year old son died in an accident.

I wish Jaideep Sahni could had used Negi in the script instead of a Kabir Khan.

Aspi said...

Well, he was the technical advisor. And tragic as his story is: I think the fact that the coach was Muslim tweaks our own ingrained bias rather well.

To lose a son though - that has got to be the biggest trauma of all.

Anonymous said...

You have every right to praise Chak De India and SRK but no beep right to insult Aamir Khan. But I suppose you are a typical proSRK/ anti-aamir bigot. In Lagaan aamir played a villager from 19th century India, one who plays the game to help his people fight off an oppressive tax punishment. Bhuvan of Lagaan was not a beep professional player unlike Kabir Khan of CDI. And Lagaan is still overall marginally ahead of Cdi. The latter could have done with better music for one thing, more rousing. As it is the title track is simply noisy. CDI is a good film, pereiod. Stop insulting other actors simply to prop up a favourite.

Saritha said...

hmmm....IMO,Aamir's Lagaan is by far the best movie on a sport by any bolly standards(I haven't seen Chak de but plan to)...The fact that it's all about a game between villagers,who have never played-for that matter have never seen the game before AND the mighty English makes the whole effort a lot more genuine and fun to watch.

Every role has been meticulously carved and the music is top class.Still remember the 'baar baar han' being used as a background score for 2003 world cup cricket matches(Its on the vcd/dvd).Simply fascinating and ofcourse inspiring.A perfect blend of Cricket and Movies-two things Indians can never get enough of.

Only other movie which could keep the essence of the game intact was the low-budget film 'Iqbal'.Saw 'Apne' recently.Heavily Inspired by 'Million Dollar Baby';Heavily relied on Deols' star power.Can watch it for Dharmender though.

Aspi said...

Saritha, I knew you'd be here to defend your beloved movie :)

Anon, if you read my post carefully (and I'm not egoistic enough to believe everyone does) you might sense I'm not particulary a fan of SRK nor do I have a sharp disklike for Aamir.

The cricket in Lagaan looked fake to me. I think the point you might be making is that by focussing on the cricket, I'm missing the point of the movie. And that is a fair point to make.

Anonymous said...

i would love to beat up srk and aamir with a hockey stick

Amrita said...

I saw this movie finally and I have to say I enjoyed it even though it's not a genre I particularly enjoy or expected to enjoy. What I loved about it was the attention they paid to tiny little details that you might gloss over but taken bit by bit just adds so much to the whole thing and converted a sports film into social commentary without sacrificing the sport. The NE girl thing, the fact that the boys who were getting beaten up fought back, that the cricketer and his girlfriend were in bed together but she still refused to marry him, that the girls come out in sarees during their reception, the way the camera lingered over the girl in the swimsuit but concentrated on her muscle tone rather than how "sexy" she looked, teeny tiny things that I kept remembering on the way home.

The thing with Lagaan is what you and Saritha said (and which not everybody seems to have understood) i.e. it's less about cricket and more about a time period. I expected the cricket to be clumsy in Lagaan though because it was right for the characters and the time period to be that clumsy.

Manish said...

I wouldn't classify Lagaan as a "sports" movie. And the comparisons with CDI would be unfair. BTW, the best sport related movie from Bollywood has been Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. It was made in the early 1990s, but it still looks fresh to me.

Aspi said...

Hey what was that movie with Juhi Chawla prancing around with a bunch of cricketers singing "I'm the best". Same one?

Manish said...

Juhi's cricket/dance was in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani

Other bollyfilms with cricket as part of it were: Allrounder (Kumar Gaurav), Awwal Number (Amir/Dev Saab), Chamatkar (Naseer/SRK), Stumped (Raveena), Mujh Se shaadi Karoge, Iqbal, Hattrick, Say Salaam India and Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii.

Watch out for Rahul Bose's batting in Chain Kulii ki Main Kulii - a very elegant left-handed batsman.

Aspi said...

Excellent list! Raveena actually did a movie called Stumped?! Fabulous.

Manish said...

And how did we forget Mithun Da's Boxer? It was much better than even Rocky!

Aspi said...

Ok, if we are doing more than cricket, I also added Apne to the blog post.

Anonymous said...

I loved the movie, BOXER. Was quite upset when it bombed at the Box Office.

Rupal said...

I am taking my kids to watch Chakde India on Friday.

With all the good reviews, I am really excited. Kids are, as SRK is their fav.

Manish- I agree Jo jeeta Wohi Sikander was a great movie. We watch it every 2-3 months. DDLJ is also another Friday night fav.

On a totally different note -- I remember "Pehla Nasha", from my teenage years, to be the most romantic song. And it still is ...

Kudos to Udit Narayan (Kya awaaz payi hai. sorry Aspi, I have to disagree Udit is THE BEST SINGER), Jatin-Lalit (fantastic music), Mansoor Khan (the entire song was shot in slow motion, giving the romantic feel that is still fresh even after 15 yrs) and Aamir Khan (MINDBLOWING yaar, for the lack of better word)

Anonymous said...

Farah Khan choreographed the song.
Mansoor Khan was the director.

Aspi said...

Anon, I used to get upset whenever any of Mithun's films would bomb at the BO. He is still my favorite.

I used to get upset a lot.

Aspi said...

Rupal my boys loved CDI and I think your kids will too I think. There is a lot of action wrapped up inside several social issues. Its fairly layered as a movie.

Sania said...

Saw this yesterday - I too was disappointed that Bindiya didn't have a back story. But it struck me that that story may have been cut out. Her fondness for the team's manager Shuklaal struck me as a bit out of place. Perhaps left on the cutting room floor?

Rupal said...

Aspi, My boys enjoyed the movie too. What I liked about the movie was SRK has not overacted. I enjoyed Komal's role. Pukka Jat.

But on the flip side, since they watched the trailer of Heyy Babyy and we had to make another trip to AMC on Sunday.

Heyy Babyy was not bad either. There were some very hilarious moments.

Aspi said...

Rupal, I'm glad to hear that. Now those positive reviews of Heyy Babyy have been confounding me.

priya said...

What can I say but Chak De!

I saw a movie tonight about the Indian women’s hockey team, led by a disgraced Muslim coach, whose combined internal struggles were eventually resolved with their struggle with and eventual triumph over the rest of the world. The theater was quite empty, as I expected but what happened after the lights went off was more than I had hoped for. I can safely say this was the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time – one for the history books for my gender. At the very least, I have never had such a visceral reaction to a movie. I still haven’t stopped smiling.

Chak De India is about a Muslim men’s hockey player who gets accused of failing to win the World Championships and for doing this for Pakistan –another issue that is so rarely brought up in India. Shahrukh Khan, the lead star, has had to play some sort of Hindu, some combination of Raj/Rahul for most of his career. Hats off to him for attempting something so out of his element. In his attempt to win back his country and his respect he trains an Indian women’s hockey team, the “graveyard” as his friend calls it – and brings them heretofore unfound glory. In typical sports movie fashion a band of misfits from all over India unite and overcome all odds to beat the Australians in the finals. It was fast paced and professional, and had all the guts and glory you’d expect. It was smart, honest, and humorous. India won against England, Spain, Argentina, and Australia – what a great story for brown people! A fantasy yes, but oh what a beautiful fantasy it was.

But most of all, for me, it was about my gender.

India is on the rise right now in the global economy. Its arrogance and excitement is palpable, perhaps no more so than in its movie industry, particularly to us outsiders. As a Nepali who lives in USA, who has watched hindi movies closely for decades this really feels like a golden age in Indian filmmaking. The stories are getting more risky, more content driven, and more innovative. However, for years I have complained about the lack of movies with strong female role models – about how even after years of innovations in every other direction their discourse on women has been sadly stereotypical and unable to rise out of mediocrity. Fair enough, my fellow wannabe critics would say, show us a less sexist Hollywood if you can. And I agreed for the most part. Western women have been similarly relegated to the background and used primarily for their beauty but there is a difference in their way of being – a self assurance one only got a glimpse of in these Indian movies I so adored. But things have changed in the past few years, and to me Chak De India proves a glorious, wonderous example of this – it is something the Western world hasn’t yet accomplished with such glory. A movie about strong women whose strength, skill, intelligence, courage, and pride are far more central to their existence than their sex appeal.

Our male coach was such a blessing. So unassuming, so not sexist – he treated his players like players, trained them hard, and taught them to rise above societal expectations. It was refreshing to see Shahrukh Khan in what is possibly the best movie he has ever made. I forgive him for all the hamming down the years, all the sexist movies he has been part of that have been made by the Chopra and Johar and other camps. While this movie is probably going to fail at the box office, I am glad that it got their backing and his star power to give it a grand polished look, much unlike the status of women’s sports worldwide.

This is one movie I will treasure for years to come and show my kids, when I have them, and whoever arrives at my doorstep.

When two Northeast Indian girls were being teased by a couple of boys and the whole Indian women’s team took them apart, it was one of those amazing moments that truly took hold of me and it’s hard for me to articulate how I felt then. To have had to wait this long to see something like that – I had tears in my eyes and my heart was beating out of control. I was hooting and clapping in the theater like mad. How many times have women throughout the subcontinent wanted to tear apart the men who carelessly tease them, expect them to conform and hide their faces, ridicule their independence, bring them down every opportunity they get, and expect women to just take it in – no questions asked? For once, I felt like I was watching a movie that was truly talking to me, that was made for me – an independent woman who has yearned for so many years to be treated with respect, to be seen for the spirit and intellect I possessed before anything else.

It was time my gender got some respect and I am glad it was done by Indians – who as they rise probably are also pushing for a social message that is pro- strong, no-nonsense women in a notoriously female unfriendly society. While feminism seems to be dead in the West, what with the rise of “slut feminism”, hopefully this movie signals that it is on the rise in India.

If this is the case, I am psyched for the rise of India. Even if I am from Nepal.

Aspi said...

Excellent view point and review, Priya. I linked to it in the original post.

priya said...

thanks a lot aspi!

i'll post more as i can later. the last thing i wrote was on rang de, but i'm definitely dying to get a gig as a movie reviewer (volunteer) of course.

kaash. :)

Aspi said...

Theek hai, next time you see a movie and want to do a review - shoot it to me over email. And make sure you have that unique perspective that you brought to the CDI review :)

priya said...

i don't know about unique perspective and all, but once i feel like writing a review it comes straight from the heart.

will shoot it to you the next time i write something like that.

m said...

Well what's so great about this movie? Everyone were going on and on about how innovative and new concept it was

Sry2say but it was done time and time again in the past.

Three Words

The Mighty Ducks

Aspi said...

m, true: it wasn't original. But the thing about Bollywood is that the mould is so set that anything that breaks from it - even slightly - gets our attention.

Witness Konkana Sen Sharma - who I think is a very mediocre actress. But she acts in different stuff and refuses to run around trees and all of a sudden she is India's big acting hope. Pffft!

m said...

omg you echo'ed my thoughts about Konkona S.S.

I find her overrated as well. She has average non glamorous looks going for her. Had she been gorgeous and hot, people will be more critical of her..

Shekhar Ki Deewani said...

Guys, I liked Chak De...finally sumthing that shows the true indian woman's spirit..i can relate to it..as regard Konkona...i guess u guys must not have seen all her movies...i have a special interest in Art movies, and for that appreciating those movies u need to have a different type of mindset altogether...
Like Laaga Chunri Mein Daag.....this movie was deeper than it actually appears to be...

Sidekick said...

megan, i think yr notion that the plain jane gets an automatic and perhaps undeserved entry to the pantheon of good actors is interesting .... but i don't think it precludes the gorgeous fm joining them. sridevi and madhuri in their time were gorgeous and won shabaashis for their acting chops. more recently the ultra glam kareena kapoor has too with omkara and to some extent with chameli and yuva.

Also, the glam dolls have their beauty to sell. Plain Janes if they fail on the acting front, have no chance of survival and so there maybe something to the idea (setting results aside) that plain janes like Avis do work harder! Incidentally, i don't think of either Konkana, Vidya or Rani as plain janes - but clearly our standards are different :)

Aspi said...

sidekick, good points. Deglaming does get you noticed as an actress and not just in Bollywood but Hollywood too (case in point: Charlize Theron). The only way around this is to look glam and act like a piss-in-the-can guy (case in point: Lena Headey in 300 or Jen Garner in Alias)

Of all the actresses mentioned here, I think only Madhuri appeared to be able to act better than the roles she was given. The rest I never took to much.

I think Kareena is good in certain types of roles - but unfortunately she isn't good looking (my opinion) enough for the roles she gravitates towards.

And Rani, hmmm - one of these days I'm going to put down my thoughts about her.