Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chak De! India, or, Let's Go, Women's Empowerment!

I am a completely unathletic person. It made my parents very sad since they both played college sports. My siblings liked things that involved sweating and running and throwing spherical objects at other people. I, on the other hand, was the kid who sneaked her books outside by sticking them under her shirt and walking, half-hunched over to hide the tell-tale corners, to the nearest shade tree where I would choose the side of the trunk farthest away from the house to lean against and finish my latest novel.

Still, all that doesn't mean that I bear any ill-will toward athletes themselves. In fact my sister played Division One softball all through her undergrad years until heading off to grad school. I got to know the game and her teammates pretty well through my proximity to her, and I got to realize that female athletes are an admirable breed of their own.
Chak De! India (or Go For It! India) pays tribute to that particular type of woman, the type who's willing to discipline and sacrifice herself and maybe more than that for her team's accomplishments. Of course, it also pays tribute to a really hot guy's ability to bring them all together. Oh, wait, the fact that he's hot and also apparently single isn't supposed to weigh with this movie. But, dude. Shah Rukh Khan, you should always stubble that chin; it makes those dimples positively rakish. Aaand it's weird that none of the girls on your team apparently notice that fact.

Anyway, Chak De! is the tale of the ever-neglected women's field hockey team in India and how it comes together to win, against all odds (like any good sports film) the fictional World Championship. Field hockey is India's national sport officially, but in all but its Wikipedia listing the real national sport is cricket. I suppose that means that even its men's team is probably neglected, and it's from that team that Kabir Khan (SRK) is forcefully ejected. He loses a penalty stroke against Pakistan, and because he's a Muslim and is seen shaking hands with the opposing team's captain everyone assumes he threw the game on purpose.

After seven years of, first disgrace, then disappearance, Kabir returns to ask for the chance to coach the women's field hockey team. Even though its own board derisively refers to the teammates as women who've left their natural sphere (including one member who's a middle-aged woman--nice touch, that), Kabir eventually persuades them to allow him to take over the job.

The girls show up, and instant tension flares as their different backgrounds grate against one another. They're obviously ill-suited to come together long enough to run around the field a few times, let alone visit any sort of championship, but Kabir's determined to make them consider themselves Indian first and Bengali, Punjabi, etc. second.

So, he does his best while the veterans Aliya (Anaitha Nair), Bindia (Shilpa Shukla) and Gunjun (Shubhi Mehta) do their best to undermine him. It's not because of any personal animosity they bear towards Kabir, but because they've seen suck coaches come and go while these three remain. The scales seem to be tilting against Kabir till a moment in McDonald's changes everything, for the team and for him.

Beth has commented better than I could about the unsettling implications of the McDonald's ruckus, and the PPCC has mentioned the somewhat ironic storytelling device of having a guy come in and save the day for the women, who just can't seem to pull it together without him. (I have to confess that neither of these issues would have occurred to me while I was watching the film. Thought? While being entertained? Huh?) I agree with both these caveats, but I also see the team as a larger metaphor for the different cultures in India pulling together as a whole, as well as its different religions, and accomplishing great things on the world stage. (I'll tell you what did bug me, though, was the (female) assistant coach's deference to Kabir. Always "Khan-sahib" this and "Khan-sahib" that. Maybe that's a cultural thing but it bothered the American me.)

Plus, the characters are just super fun. In a cast this large, there isn't much room for character development, so instead the scriptwriters mostly rely on types. There's the world-weary veteran Bindia, the married woman forced to choose between her in-laws' approval and her love for the game (Vidya Malvade, playing a Vidya as well), the prep-school "snob" (Sagarika Ghatge as Preeti), the agressive sorta manly girl (Tanya Abrol as Balbir, whose unibrow I cheered every time the camera did an above-forehead close-up--I just loved her character), the tomboy Komal (Chitrashi Rawat), the outsiders Mary and Molly (Kimi Laldawla and Masochon "Chon Chon" Zimik), both from Northeast India and both often regarded as foreigners in their own country even though their Hindi sounds pitch-perfect to me (though I'm the farthest thing from knowledgeable about such things)... and a whole bunch of other girls who are all totally enjoyable to get to know in the limited time they have onscreen.

Watching the girls' journey from disparate individuals to cohesive teammates is half the fun; the other half is AngryKhan, who is now my favorite SRK avatar. AngryKhan rocks my world. However, I have to repeat myself and say that it seems really weird to me that apparently none of the girls notice the fact that AngryKhan is also SuperSexyKhan; there is an instance wherein a player propositions the coach but it's to get a position she wants (on the team, pervert, sheesh), not because she finds him all that attractive.

Barring that, the film seems to do quite well on the reality front; the girls fight over bunk placements and gossip about boys and each others' love lives. One of the girls sleeps with her boyfriend on a regular basis and everyone jokes about it but nothing more. AngryKhan does not lip-sync or dance, although he does swing a mean hockey stick. Everyone pours sweat, wears minimal to no make-up, and looks dog-tired at the end of practice. (A scene when the girls are required to wear saris had me absolutely cracking up; they looked about as comfortable as my sister's teammates did in dresses at the rare formal function.) The girls' interactions are funny and authentic and made me laugh out loud with fellow feeling more than once.

And of course they're treated like crap by most of the men in their lives, or at best with patronizing indulgence by all but Kabir. I've been told some unfortunate tales by girlfriends of mine who've traveled in South Asia about the treatment they received, but I assumed it was because they are white; if the picture this film gives is accurate then apparently it's because they are girls. Watching the girls overcome the odds stacked against them due to their gender is fun too.

As far as the soundtrack goes, there isn't one. Well, except for Sukhwinder Singh singing "Chak De India." Okay, wait, there is a whole CD but I can't remember any of the songs except for that one and the one awful number that plays during the "girls see a foreign land for the first time as a team" montage which took way too long and made me reach for the fast-forward button. "Chak De India" is really good, though.

The film does drag in the second half; there's too much time spent on the details of their trip to the World Championship and the conflict between Preeti and Komal takes too long to be resolved, but that's not much of a list as far as complaints go. The end credits sequence might be my favorite part of the movie, especially when one of the girls gets a proposal. Totally awesome. Chak De! India is worth every penny, and then some.

13 comments:

  1. 2007 was year of Great movies. Unlike 2008. Till end of the year, there are only a few good movies.
    Chak de...was a instant hit. Sagarika and Chitrashi are my favorite.

    Have you checked out the track 'ek hockey doongi main rakh ke'?? Sung by whole crew including SRK. Its fun, when you are in mood of chak de....

    Pop patriotism was a key for this flick. Remember the scene 'Aaj pehlibaar kisi Angrez ko Tiranga phehraate dekh raha hoo...'

    P.S.: SRK looked awesome wearing those glares and white shirt.

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  2. Great review! Even though I've recently decided that Anil Kapoor would have played a better Kabir Khan, I cannot deny (1) the significance that SRK took the role in order to boost the film's cred (yay, gender sensitive SRK!), (2) the gloriousness and meta of watching SRK finally play a Muslim and (3) the power of his hotness (the GLORIOUS, GLORIOUS STUBBLE).

    Funny that you say the Preeti/Komal thing took too long to be resolved - I didn't notice a drag (though I cry EVERY SINGLE TIME I watch the scene where Komal passes Preeti).

    Re: the (nonexistent) soundtrack: my absolute favorite track is Kabir's Wailing Background Qawwali of Bittersweetness - it plays when he's bumped off the team and again when the girls win the championship. Lovely!

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  3. Oh, yes to the stubble! It's funny how many SRK love stories I've watched (and loved), and yet, I have never, ever, thought he looked better than in Chak De. I was startled to find him so hot, while doing nothing of an even remotely romantic nature.

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  4. My favorite scene is the one in which the coach and players first meet. That was really well executed!

    This article suggests Chak De is somewhat based on a true story. Mir Ranjan Negi's Wikipedia entry is also pretty interesting, he seems to have been involved in the filmmaking.

    I have some friends with the last name Khan who take pride in being referred to as Khan-sahib (even if it's in jest, with the tone similar to 'Mamu' in Main Hoon Na, LOL), and I think it's more a product of respect than respect initiated by gender. So if the assistant coach were male, I don't think that bit would have mattered assuming the character's personality traits and deference were retained.

    And finally, this is to me SRK's second-best film of all time, Swades being the best. Besides, he had to have a sports-themed film after Lagaan :P

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  5. I loooved CDI. I wrote it back when I first started my blog and didn't have as many screen caps, hehehe.

    SRK look extra hot in this movie and I don't usually say that about him. This and MHN are the only two which I found him good looking. But I do love him as an actor. The girls, on a whole, make the movie really enjoyable.

    I love sports movie though. Don't I love a lot of stuff? Hehehehe. I don't think I'm athletic but I do play volleyball competively.

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  6. I agree and disagree about the resturaunt scene. Basically, I'll sum it up this way: violence is never the right answer, but at least in many of Amitabh Bachchan's "Angry Young Man" movies, he didn't start violence to be a jerk and show off, he did it for the rights of the people. Like the big fight scene in the first half of Deewaar: I totally excused the ass-kicking because he did it for the good of the people.

    I'm a Quaker, so violence never melts my butter, but I let it slide a little in movies. ;)

    And yeah, I am still pissed at the lack of soundtrack on this film. You have Sukhwinder motherfucking Singh and a bestubbled Shahrukh Khan! WTF, people!

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  7. PS: I believe the "sahib" part is, as BollywoodFan mentioned, a matter of respect. She calls him that because he is the head coach and she is an assistant, not because he is a man and she is a woman.

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  8. Chak De... is one of the best I've seen. Women power movies, I like that. And I really like the line, "Kisi kaam ko karne ke liye mehnat ki nahin, niyat ki zaroorat hoti hai."

    And I agree with Darshit's comment. 2008 has given us no 'great' movies :(

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  9. Ooohh, I want to see this badly...I own it--LOL--and have for over a year but haven't gotten around to watching it yet. (But considering I've cranked out 6 Bwood movies in the past week and a half, I'd say I'm on a roll now!)

    Great review, as always! I'm looking forward to the stubble. I saw the preview and pics and thought "hmm, he can pull this off" but from the sound of your review, its even better watching him in action!

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  10. Thank you all for your comments!

    Darshit, I'm gonna have to check that track out, it sounds like so much fun! 'Aaj pehlibaar kisi Angrez ko Tiranga phehraate dekh raha hoo...' I don't know what that means. :-( My Hindi, it is small. But yes, SRK did look awesome in the whole film.

    Thanks for the compliment, PPCC! Oooo, Anil as Kabir--very nice thought. I like me the character roles for Anil; his Bhaiya-ji made me collapse on the floor laughing. And yes, it was really nice to see SRK playing a Muslim; was this the first time he did so? Also, I think the stubble-covered dimples should be considered a deadly weapon and treated with utmost pyaar.

    Hi Anarchavist! I think the secret to SRK being superhot to me is him avoiding the practiced loverboy mannerisms. I like him pretty much in everything, because of that darned charisma, but I'm hardly ever attracted to him. Every once in a while, though, he blows my socks off. LOL

    Adaab Bollywood Fan! Yes, that scene was really great; I felt kinda sorry for the poor guy checking them in. His haplessness had me giggling more than once. I also really appreciated the high production values and awesome camera work. I forgot to mention that in my actual post but the quality was definitely first-class. Thanks for clearing up the "sahib" thing for me; I wondered if it was a deference thing due to status rather than gender but the tone of the movie made me defensive. LOL

    Nae: About the fight, I really have no right to quibble since I totally would not have noticed it as objectionable had I not read Beth's post first. Am shallow, also turn brain off while viewing. ;-) But anyway, I did think it went on a little too long; toward the end I had to resist the urge to check the time on my cell phone. Still, overall the movie ROCKS though I agree it's a tragic waste of Singh-sahib. Speaking of which, thanks for your clarification on the sahib matter too. :-D

    Hi Bollywood Lover! "Kisi kaam ko karne ke liye mehnat ki nahin, niyat ki zaroorat hoti hai." Ack, I must study my Hindi more! I have no idea what this means; I can pick out the odd word but verbs still escape me for the most part. Anyway, I thought "Jodhaa Akbar" was great but otherwise 2008's been quite disappointing.

    Nida: I can safely say that you'll really like it. You're definitely on a roll! My husband would kill me if I watched that many Bollywood movies in a week and a half. Sigh. LOL Yes, seeing SRK in action is almost always better than seeing him in pix. ;-)

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  11. I think it means - "Will is needed to do something, not 'hard work'.

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  12. Oooh, thanks for translating. I remember that part now! It *is* a great line.

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  13. awesome movie and review...oh and about the khan-sahin thing - I bring it up as no one has - it's just a respect thing.
    SRK returns it as he always refers to her as "Krishna - JI"

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