Written by Jaideep Sahni
Directed by Shimit Amin
Running Time: 2:30
Chak De India was your standard 'underdog makes good' story except this time it dealt with field hockey.
Kabir Khan is the star of the Indian men's field hockey team, but his mistake costs them a crucial game against Pakistan. Shunned by the entire country, he disappears for seven years, only to suddenly reappear as the coach of the women's field hockey team. Unlike the men's team, the women's team is more of an afterthought. Khan is determined to win back his legacy by coaching the team to the World Championships. But can he take a group of players who are used to being the star and make them play as a team?
Chak De India isn't your standard Bollywood film. There are no dance sequences or love stories. The story line is one that you can find in dozens of films from around the world. They all have the same simple idea: take a team of underdogs that no one gives a chance, and turn them into champions. We've seen this scenario play out in basketball, football, ice hockey, and cricket, just to name a few. So story-wise, you know how this is going to play out. And when you know how a story is going to end, it becomes a challenge to the filmmakers to still keep you interested. That is done through creating characters that you feel something for, or at the very least, a single character that keeps you tied to the ups and downs of the team.
Obviously the biggest draw to this movie is India's number one star, Shahrukh Khan. Shahrukh doesn't make as many movies as his contemporaries, so when he appears in one, it's an event. And timing the release of a movie based on national pride to Indian Independence (August 15th) makes it an even bigger event. Generally Shahrukh's characters fall in love, get hurt, dance, sing and cry. This time however, his character doesn't fall in love, doesn't dance and doesn't sing. And he only cries once. But he is filled with immense hurt, not just for costing his team the big game, but for the reaction that followed. To have the hopes and dreams of an entire nation come crashing down on his shoulders is not something he can handle. And it's that feeling that drives him to want to make the women's team the best they can be, so that the weight of the nation doesn't hurt them as well. It was a performance from Shahrukh that many might not be used to seeing, and I was pleasantly surprised at the power he emanated.
Then there were the field hockey players. It looked to me that they decided to go for a mix of actresses and women who could actually play the game. None of them stood out more than another. There was the one who had been on the team before and believed that earned her an automatic spot as captain and team leader. There was the one whose father didn't want her to play. Actually then there was a second one whose father-in-law didn't want her to play. There was the girl who had a boyfriend who was on the cricket National team and who belittled her little 'field hockey' game. There was the girl with the severe mean streak in her. And a whole cast of other typical characters found in these movies. All with either something to prove, or something to get over. On the whole they weren't great actresses, but there were a couple of ones that stood out. More importantly, they all looked like they could play the game, which always makes for a better movie.
The music, such as it was, wasn't memorable. Other than the title track (which I've been singing in my head for a couple of days now) the other songs were good, but nothing special. However as I listen to the soundtrack, I find that the music works well away from the film. Within the film it felt almost shoved into place because the audience demands it. The biggest issue I've always had with Bollywood films, and what I feel is the main reason they don't hit it big all over the world, is length. They're all generally much too long. Because of the need to add in song and dance sequences, movies that could easily play out in around 120 minutes take 150-200 minutes. Even without song and dance numbers, this movie was still about 20-30 minutes too long, and at least 7-8 minutes of that was because of a montage sequence that didn't add anything except an extra song to the soundtrack. Luckily, I enjoyed the movie enough that I didn't let it bother me too much. But some day I'd love to see a studio cut of the film that is just about the movie, and not about the filler.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Chak De India. The story is pretty standard, but the acting more than held up and kept me interested throughout.
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