Movie Review: Chak De India (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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My niece isn’t old enough for movies with subtitles yet, but I want Chak De India to be the first foreign film she sees. It’s a touching parable about the virtues of tolerance, set within a familiar sports movie format. A second viewing on Netflix streaming confirmed that it’s just as good as I thought it was when I first saw it in the theater.

Shahrukh Khan stars as Kabir Khan, the former captain of India’s national men’s field hockey team. He left the sport in disgrace after missing a penalty shot that awarded victory to Pakistan, India’s archrival on and off the pitch. In a gesture of sportsmanship, Khan shook the hand of a Pakistani player, leading the media to accuse him of having thrown the match.

After seven years in exile, Khan returns to coach the Indian national women’s field hockey team, a team which exists only to fulfill federal gender equality requirements. No one else wants the job, but Khan sees it has his last chance to participate in the game he loves and prove his loyalty to his country.

The team comprises young women from most of India’s 28 states. All of the women are used to being the biggest fish in their comparatively small ponds, and none are willing to accept less than a starring role on the team. Before Khan can even contemplate getting the girls to the world championships, he must find a way to get them to work together.

First and foremost, Chak De India is a really well-executed sports movie. The first hour of the film follows the team through training, and the second covers the international tournament. In-game shots from the tournament are exciting and beautifully filmed, giving a sense of the speed and ferocity of the game. Shots from the training sessions give a sense of the physical demands placed on players, which is helpful for viewers unfamiliar with the sport.

What elevates Chak De India is its depiction of diversity. The actresses in the cast represent the wide array of Indian women: big and small, dark-skinned and light-skinned, urban and rural. Two team members from states bordering Myanmar (on India’s far-eastern border) are mistaken for Chinese or Nepalese and lament being treated like foreigners in their own country.

Chak De India also asserts the fundamental equality of women. The team not only has to fight to be taken seriously, but individual players have to fight for the right to play. Little Komal (Chitrashi Rawat) defies her father to join the team, and goalkeeper Vidya (Vidya  Malvade) joins against the wishes of her husband and his family. Goalscorer Preeti’s (Sagarika Ghatge) fiance, himself a captain on the men’s national cricket team, doesn’t see the irony in asking her to quit the team because “it’s just a game.”

Throughout, Khan encourages his players to focus their frustration with a society that considers them inferior to men into success on the pitch. He knows from experience that nothing is more satisfying than proving one’s detractors wrong.


14 thoughts on “Movie Review: Chak De India (2007)

  1. Wondermashuu

    As a white guy who doesn’t enjoy sports that aren’t basketball, I had to say I enjoyed the movie a lot. Not the sort of thing that I’m used to watching, but it managed to hold my attention very well.

    There was one big issue that I had with the movie. Preeti seems like a somewhat important character, but if the characters are supposed to grow and mature doing the movie, she does the opposite. During the beginning, she seems to be the most dedicated, hard-working member of the team. But as the movie goes on, we find out that she wants to succeed out of spite. While all the players find their place as part of the team, she sticks to her role as a selfish brat who doesn’t care about the team’s success, because she needs to prove to her boyfriend how good she is so she can shove it in his face. I know if I was the coach, she wouldn’t be on the list for the next year’s team, regardless of how many goals she scored. It really spits in the face of the “play for the team / India” message.

    That, and she just seems like a spoiled brat in general.

    /end rant

    1. Kathy

      I’m glad you liked it, Wondermashuu. I agree that Preeti was rather unsympathetic throughout the film. The writers should’ve done a better job integrating her into the team. But when the game was on the line, (spoiler alert) she gave up her spot to Komal. That was enough to redeem her, in my eyes. She wasn’t just making a point for vanity’s sake or to shove it in her boyfriend’s face, but on behalf of women who are told that their dreams aren’t valid compared to the dreams of men. It would be different if her boyfriend were just a regular guy, but he was a hero. She needed to become his equal so that rejecting him would mean something.

  2. prashal goyal

    Wow…didnt knew hindi movies were reviewed abroad as well. Very nice review,its India’s best sports movie after Lagaan.

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