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Hockey To Play

Friday, July 13, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Considering that hockey is widely believed to be India’s national game, hardly any films been made on it. (An RTI query revealed that India does not, in fact, have an official national game!)

This week’s release 'Soorma' is about hockey legend Sandeep Singh. The other big hockey movie was 'Chak De India', made in 2007 by Shimit Amin for Yash Raj Films, starring Shah Rukh Khan, very vaguely inspired by hockey player and coach Mir Ranjan Negi, who was accused of throwing a match against Pakistan in the 1982 Olympics.

'Chak De India' followed the underdog-beating-champ formula, that works each time, if the film is made well and can push the right emotional buttons. This film, inspired by Hollywood movie 'Miracle', did it right, even though one knew exactly what to expect in terms of plot.

To quote from a review from back then, 'Chak De India' has a disgraced hockey player Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) return seven years after he was accused of throwing a match to Pakistan, and offer to coach the women’s hockey team that is to participate in the world cup. In spite of the skepticism of the bureaucrats, he is hired, and 16 girls arrive from all over the country for training.Amin (and writer Jaideep Sahni) make some throwaway comments about people’s ignorance about their country — the girls from Jharkhand and the North East have to face the silliest questions. Kabir’s first task is to make the girls rally around into an Indian team, rather than players from various state teams. There is the usual friction between the girls over small matters like bunk allocation. The experienced players — particularly the cynical Bindiya Naik (Shilpa Shukla) — resent the tough regime Kabir puts them through. The girls get mutinous, till an ordinary incident of eve-teasing unites them, and now they are ready for the game as it should be played. All this is fairly predictable, what is more interesting is what is not underlined — like the dingy room and awful bathroom the girls have to share, while the cricketer boyfriend of one of the girls (Sagarika Ghatge) lounges in five- star comfort.The back-stories of the girls needed more fleshing out perhaps, instead of the inordinate amount given to the world cup matches. The tribal girls from Jharkhand for instance —how did they even get this far? More about the relationships and rivalries between the girls, would have also made a difference to the otherwise conventional story. It’s not as if the actual women’s hockey win at the Commonwealth Games, that inspired 'Chak De India', rescued the sport from near-oblivion, so it’s not so much the game as the impact it made on the lives of these ordinary girls that would have given the film more meaning.

The supercilious cricketer gets dumped by his victorious fiancee, but what about the married girl (Vidya Malavade), for instance? Is she able to go back and become the ideal ‘bahu’ her family wants her to be? Will the hefty Balbir (Tanya Abrol) and the little Komal (Chitrashi Rawat), ever go back to a normal existence after the heady experience of winning.Instead of the untold little stories, Amin goes for broad patriotic strokes of the flag-waving kind.
The essence of the film comes together in Kabir’s “70-minute” speech — where the SRK magic is most prominent — but there’re too few of these heart-stopping moments. The biggest strength of the film is in the casting of ordinary actors who offset Shah Rukh’s dazzling star power, by becoming their parts.”

A decade after the film, Shah Rukh Khan is still a star, while the hockey playing girls did not get too far. The real Indian women’s hockey team, is still neglected, despite sporadic victories. Cricket just buries every other game under its shadow.

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