I admit it; like many around here, I’m a sucker for a good sports film. No matter how formulaic the plot (The underdog wins! The team doesn’t win but learns a valuable lesson!), win or lose I’m usually choked up by the end of the Big Game. So I was excited to read about Chak de India, a new Bollywood film that has both box office and critical success. The sports movie genre is rare for Bollywood, as is showing its leading ladies in sweaty, dirty conditions. But this film is loosely based on the true story of an Indian women’s field hockey team and its coach.
And how great is this image?
In the movie, the girls must find a way to unite despite their differences and overcome obstacles such as class, ethnic, and gender bias. The movie is also about a nation as underdog. The team plays its way to a championship in an international field where the girls must earn respect for their country, and it’s no coincidence that the film’s release date coincides with the 60th anniversary of India’s independence from British colonial rule.
Here’s one promo. I couldn’t find this particular version with subtitles, but one beauty of sports movies is that you can always tell what’s going on anyway.
So how does the film measure up in the genre of women’s sports movies? Reuters reports that Indian audiences especially loved scenes where previously victimized women beat down on their male oppressors, refused marriage proposals, and walked out of their homes, all to play hockey. But I suspect from the promos and news coverage, not to mention the official synopsis, that the movie is as much, if not more, about a disgraced man’s quest for redemption through coaching. The female cast members, including Vidya Sharma, Preeti Sabarwal, and Komal Chautala, are newcomers to the movie industry. Shahrukh Khan, who plays the male coach, is the only big name. And he tends to dominate reviews and promotional images.
Khan’s role is the former athlete who missed a game-winning shot in an international hockey match, and quit playing under allegations of match-fixing. For him, coaching is a chance to prove his worth again. In promos like this one, he has his own music video (with subtitles, this time, though the translation is interesting in places). He seems to be singing about himself as much as anything, and practically all you see of the girls is their feet.
Still, if this one ever makes it to Netflix, I may give it a shot. And if it is anything like A League of Their Own, as this guy insists, I should be able to get through it the same way: Ignore the male coach, and think of Geena Davis. Or whoever plays that girl in this film — the reluctant recruit who believes that people are just as important as the game.