Friday, August 23, 2013

Chak De! India (live action movie), via Netflix

Chak De! India is an Indian sports drama about field hockey. I decided to watch it because I wanted to try another Indian movie and Netflix guessed I would probably like it. Also, I vaguely remembered thinking Shah Rukh Khan, the actor who plays Kabir, was hot back when I was checking in issues of India Today as part of my Periodicals student worker job.

Seven years ago, Kabir Khan was the captain of the Indian men's hockey team. His fall from grace came after his team lost to Pakistan. Because it was his bad shot that lost the game and because he was the only member of his team to shake an opposing player's hand, Kabir was rumored to have thrown the game and was branded a traitor. His mother was ostracized and forced to move from their family home, and Kabir had to quit playing hockey.

Fast forward to the present, seven years later. The Indian women's field hockey team is in bad shape. It's well-known that coaching them is a career killer, so who would want to do it? Kabir Khan, that's who. He's determined to take those 16 young women, who are divided by their various prejudices, and make them play as a team. Not only that, he thinks they can become good enough to win the World Cup.

I may not be a fan of real-life sports, but I do seem to have a soft spot for sports movies and TV series. Chak De! India featured several cliches that fans of sports dramas are likely familiar with: a horrible team that becomes a well-functioning one, a musical training montage, a coach trying to overcome a painful past, and a few character types, such as the Experienced Player Who Has a Problem With the New Coach. In addition, there were some cliches that tend to only come up in stories about women's sports teams: overcoming unsupportive family members, the moment when the women's team has to play against a men's team to prove themselves, and the moment when the women's team has earned the respect of formerly dismissive men.

The movie didn't entirely follow the sports drama templates I was familiar with. For example, although the team overcomes its biggest issues during the first half and is able to make it to the World Cup, they continue to suffer from teamwork problems until nearly the end of the movie. In the words of one coach to Kabir: “How did you ever make it to the World Cup?” The latter half of the movie wasn't so much about refining strategies and figuring out how to use players' strengths against opposing teams as it was about ironing out those last few teamwork wrinkles.

And here's where I admit that I missed those “refining strategies and making use of players' strengths” moments. At most, the movie had India's match against South Korea. Most of India's players didn't have the experience necessary to figure out how to break South Korea's strategy, but Kabir knew that Bindia and the one other experienced player did, so he put her in the game. However, all the movie told viewers was that the pair were playing in an unusual way. What was it about the way they played that allowed India to beat South Korea? It was frustrating not to get some kind of explanation.

Although this movie didn't work as well for me as other sports dramas I've watched, it still had some good moments. I loved Kabir's pep talks, particularly the one he gave his team prior to playing against the Indian men's field hockey team. I liked the movie's main song, “Chak De! India” - it was incredibly catchy. Also, it was interesting seeing what sorts of problems each of the women had to deal with. For example, Mary and Molly, both from North-East India, were often treated as foreigners. Men would assume they were Chinese and/or couldn't understand Hindi and would hit on them. Rani and Soimoi, from Jharkhand, were bullied by the short-tempered Balbir. Soimoi had the additional problem of being unable to speak either Hindi or English. Vidya's husband's family wanted her to quit field hockey, and Preeti's fiance, who was on India's national cricket team, repeatedly dismissed field hockey as unimportant.

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