Tag Archives: Chak De India

Movie Review: Gold (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Reema Kagti and screenwriter Rajesh Devraj took some liberties with Gold, their fictionalized account of India’s 1948 Olympic field hockey victory, changing the names of players and minor details while keeping the core of the story intact. Yet the story’s predetermined ending seems to have stumped the filmmakers, as almost every attempt to create tension in Gold feels forced and inorganic.

The events of Gold are told from the perspective of Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), an assistant manager on the British Indian field hockey team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As the world’s most formidable hockey team for many years running, frustration builds among the team at being forced to share their glory with their British oppressors. But with the independence movement growing in strength, Tapan and the team’s captain, Shankar (Kunal Kapoor), hope to one day win the gold for India alone.

World War II cancels the Olympics in 1940 and again in 1944. This is addressed in a song montage that shows Tapan spiraling into despair and alcoholism, but it warranted further exploration. What was it like for those athletes who spent their prime competitive years on the sidelines, particularly those in countries far removed from the theater of war? We learn from Tapan that Shankar became a coach and that another player, Imtiaz Ali Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), became a freedom fighter, but not how they felt about being unable to compete.

Gold’s greatest fault is that it is too focused on Akshay Kumar’s character. His emotional journey is the only one shown in any real depth, and events are shown exclusively from his perspective. It’s a stark contrast to 2007’s Chak De! India — another patriotic field hockey movie — which managed to establish about a dozen other memorable characters, in addition to a manager played by a superstar actor (in that case, Shah Rukh Khan).

When the war ends and a new Olympic games is announced for 1948 in England, Tapan rushes to assemble a team. With independence from Britain right around the corner, it’s the perfect opportunity to beat the Brits on their home soil. The sports commissioner Mr. Wadia gives his consent, with the provision that Tapan share managerial duties with Mr. Mehta (Atul Kale).

With the former superstar Shankar comfortably retired, Tapan enlists Imtiaz to serve as captain, bringing veteran leadership to a squad of young players with no international experience. Two hopeful new stars include a Punjabi policeman named Himmat (Sunny Kaushal) and Raghubhir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), a prince from a noble family.

Yet the plans Tapan and Imtiaz make in anticipation of independence are destroyed by the surprise implementation of Partition. Violence forces Imtiaz and several other Muslim players to flee with their families to the newly formed Pakistan, and the team’s British-Indian players head to Australia. Gold‘s best sequence is the heart-wrenching moment when Imtiaz decides to leave the nation whose independence he fought for, saying: “My country is different now.” His character’s particular struggles warrant a standalone movie.

Sadly, Gold heads downhill from here. The newly assembled team’s training is plagued by problems that promise to generate dramatic tension. Only that tension never really manifests — since the problems are all solved as quickly as they start. Mehta undermines Tapan, but Wadia immediately endorses Tapan’s approach. The team won’t work together, but then they learn to do so in a matter of minutes.

It’s a shame that Kagti and Devraj abandon politics at this point, since it could have been a good source of intra-team conflict, especially since the characters aren’t strictly based on any of the real-life team members. How do working class team members feel about playing with a prince, who seems unaffected by the fallout from Partition? Is Himmat worried about the violence in Punjab while he’s in training? How do any of the other dozen or so unnamed players feel about… well, anything? Instead, the climactic tension is created by one character needlessly withholding information from others — a silly shortcut, given all the potential sources of conflict available.

The acting is uniformly decent, with Singh giving the film’s standout performance. Shah and Kaushal are good as well. Kumar is fine, but the film’s uneven mix of drama and comedy keeps this from being one of his more memorable roles. Mouni Roy — who plays Tapan’s wife, Monobina — likewise suffers for having to perform comedy scenes that aren’t especially funny. Roy is seventeen years younger than Kumar, which makes one wonder why her young, attractive character would marry a much older, intermittently-employed drunk — a question that could have been avoided by casting an actress closer in age to Kumar.

Many of Gold‘s shortcomings could be forgiven if its hockey scenes were exciting, but they aren’t (the few that exist anyway). The Olympic scenes are also hampered by distracting CGI crowds in the background. Contrast that with the thrilling, beautifully-shot hockey scenes in Chak De! India, and Gold is strictly average.

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Streaming Video News: July 1, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix with two new additions to the catalog. The entertaining 2014 biopic Mary Kom and the ridiculous 2008 action flick Race are now available for streaming.

According to Instant Watcher, Chak De! India is now available for rent or purchase at Amazon. It’s also available for streaming at Netflix.

Bollywood Sports Movies on Netflix

Click here to view my full, up-to-date list of all Hindi movies currently available on Netflix.

India’s semi-finals exit from the Cricket World Cup altered a lot of people’s weekend plans. If you’re still in a sporty mood, check out these Bollywood movies about athletes, available on Netflix:

ChakDeIndiaChak De! India (2007)

This is probably my favorite sports movie ever. Shahrukh Khan plays the coach of the talented but underestimated Indian national women’s field hockey team. It’s a great film for families, and especially for girls. Its pro-diversity message also makes it one of the most patriotic Bollywood films out there.

Kai_Poche_film_posterKai Po Che! (2013)

Three cricket-loving young men find their hopes for the future dashed by an earthquake and a wave of political and religious violence. Kai Po Che is worth watching for performances by some of Bollywood’s hottest young stars.

 

sikandarSikandar (2009)

Like Kai Po Che!, Sikandar is another film in which violence intrudes upon the life of a young athlete, this time a soccer player.

 

 

say-salaam-indiaSay Salaam India (2006)

A coach turns a bunch of wrestlers into cricket players.

 

 

ZnmdcoverZindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011)

Three single friends go on one last road trip, challenging themselves with extreme sports like sky diving along the way. A fun movie with a super cast. My favorite part of ZNMD is the song “Señorita,” sung by the movie’s stars: Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, and Abhay Deol.

Streaming Video News: March 19, 2014

Netflix added a bunch of Hindi films to their streaming catalog today, according to Instant Watcher. Most of the titles are old favorites that were temporarily dropped from the service. I’ve reviewed many of the movies, so here’s my ranking of the films just added to Netflix:

  1. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
  2. Chak De! India
  3. Dostana
  4. Mere Brother Ki Dulhan
  5. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
  6. Band Baaja Baaraat
  7. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Three other movies were also added today: Veer-Zaara, Dhoom, and Mohabbatein. Netflix’s entire Bollywood catalog can be found here.

In other streaming video news, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was recently added to Eros Now.

Movie Review: Mausam (2011)

1 Star (out of 4)

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In the film industry, a “logline” is a single sentence that summarizes a movie’s plot. It’s an effective way to pique an audience’s interest or pitch a story to investors. Take Die Hard, for example: A cop’s attempt to reconcile with his ex-wife is derailed when her office building is taken over by terrorists.

Loglines aren’t unique to Hollywood; many great Indian movies can be succinctly summarized as well. Chak De India: The Indian Women’s Field Hockey team must overcome their own internal struggles before they can take on the rest of the world.

I’ve tried to craft a logline for Mausam, and I can’t do it. I don’t know what Mausam is about. Okay, I obviously know that it’s about two young people whose fondness for each other spans decades. So what?

In my example loglines for Die Hard and Chak De India, the conflicts that fuel the plots of both films are contained within the sentences. John McClane is at odds with both his ex-wife and the terrorists. The women’s hockey team fights internal and external battles.

Mausam‘s biggest problem is that it has no conflict. There’s no reason why the lead characters, Harry (Shahid Kapoor) and Aayat (Sonam Kapoor), can’t be together. Their parents don’t object, they’re not engaged to other people, they’re not driven apart by war or culture. Rather, their budding romance is stymied by minor obstacles and a lack of communication.

Harry and Aayat begin falling for one another in Harry’s village in Punjab, where Aayat has moved to escape violent riots in Kashmir. Then Aayat leaves in the middle of the night, without so much as leaving a note for Harry.

Seven years later (in 1999), Aayat and Harry meet again in Scotland. Actually, she spots him first but doesn’t say anything. She waits for him to notice her among all the women in Edinburgh, even though he has no reason to suspect she’d be there.

Her explanation for why she fled so suddenly years earlier? Her dad phoned and asked her to join him in Mumbai. No emergency, and she wasn’t in danger, she just moved house in the matter of a few hours on a moment’s notice.

The couple appear to be on their way to marriage when, this time, Harry is abruptly called away without time to contact Aayat.

Aayat’s excuse for not contacting Harry is difficult to believe, but Harry has no excuse at all. He has Aayat’s cell phone number, her home phone number and her home address. Rather than call Aayat to tell her why he had to leave, he phones his sister in Switzerland and tells her to go to Scotland (without calling first) and meet Aayat in person to explain what happened. Of course, Aayat has herself moved to parts unknown by then.

Harry and Aayat meet several times in subsequent years before they finally commit to a future together during a preposterous action-packed climax. The finale is so stupid, I laughed out loud.

What makes the silliness of actor Pankaj Kapur’s directorial debut such a shame is that Mausam is a great-looking movie. Harry’s hometown is a charming village out of time. There are a number of breathtaking set pieces, as when Harry races on his bicycle to catch Aayat’s departing train. Closeups of Sonam Kapoor — who’s plenty cute on her own — make her look angelic.

Kapur might yet have great success as a director, so long as someone else writes the screenplay.

Another problem that will only affect international audiences is that Mausam‘s English subtitles are translated too literally, something that doesn’t work given the different sentence structures of Hindi and English. Consequently, the jokes aren’t funny, and one must spend so much mental energy reconstructing the words into meaningful sentences that it distracts from the action on screen.

Overall, Mausam proves that style doesn’t trump substance. As gorgeous as it looks, Mausam is too boring and silly to warrant the nearly three hours of attention it requires.

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Movie Review: Chak De India (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

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.

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Movie Review: Aakrosh (2010)

3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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When watching a Hindi movie, I often consider whether someone who has never seen a Bollywood movie before would enjoy it. To someone who likes romances, I’d recommend Love Aaj Kal; for a fan of family-friendly sports movies, I’d suggest Chak De India. But I think Aakrosh might have the widest appeal to American filmgoers (adults only, as there is some graphic violence).

Aakrosh‘s biggest selling point is its construction. It’s a well-paced thriller in which the lead characters — who truly grow over the course of the film — are placed in a difficult situation that becomes terrifying as the story progresses. The familiar format accommodates a few musical numbers that identify Aakrosh as distinctly Indian, though they do make the movie a tad long.

What adds to Aakrosh‘s appeal is that it deals with a topic unfamiliar to many Americans: honor killings. When honor killings make the news in the United States, they typically involve a young woman murdered by her own family for an act perceived as shameful. Aakrosh presents another side of the practice, in which suitors are killed in order to force a young woman into a political marriage approved by her family.

The story’s heroes are Siddhant (Akshaye Khanna) and Pratap (Ajay Devgan), two investigators sent to learn the whereabouts of three Delhi medical students who disappeared from a village two months earlier. Siddhant, also from Delhi, is the lead investigator who assumes this case will proceed as smoothly as his previous cases have. Pratap knows from having grown up in the area that Siddhant’s rule-of-law methods won’t work in Jhanjhar.

There’s a corrupt local system of governance built on the caste system that exists, despite Delhi edicts declaring castes obsolete. The police, politicians and business owners conspire to keep lower-caste, working-class villagers on the fringes of society. Those who aspire to rise above their station frequently disappear. When Siddhant asks the villagers how it’s possible that no one saw the three students, an old man replies, “We are alive because we are blind.”

Pratap is all too familiar with the caste-based politics that separated him from his former flame, Geeta (Bipasha Basu), many years earlier. Geeta is now married to the corrupt and uncooperative police chief, played with sleazy aplomb by Paresh Rawal. Unhappy Geeta knows better than to let her violent husband see her talking to the feds.

Siddhant and Pratap finally get a break in the case through sheer luck, since no one will help them. Their lives become more imperiled as they get closer to the truth about the missing young men. Siddhant is slow to admit that his by-the-book approach won’t work, and that Pratap’s method of hardball may be the only way to get justice.

The atmosphere in Aakrosh is intense. Siddhant and Pratap are surrounded by enemies, always under surveillance. Even those who aren’t their enemies won’t risk their lives for two outsiders, giving the movie a feeling that’s simultaneously lonely and claustrophobic.

Action scenes are refreshingly low-tech, relying more on parkour-style chases and fistfights than CGI special effects. The absence of cell phones and high-tech weaponry is appropriate for the remote setting. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing slick gunmen in movies that a machete-wielding mob somehow seems much scarier.

Aakrosh, while both modern and foreign, will feel familiar to fans of old Hollywood thrillers. Siddhant’s feeling of futility in the face of a corrupt social order will appeal to fans of the TV series The Wire. It’s also a good chance to catch lovely Bipasha Basu before she makes her Hollywood debut in Roland Joffé’s Singularity next year.

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Opening August 13: Peepli Live

This weekend’s new Hindi release is the black comedy, Peepli Live. Produced by Aamir Khan, Peepli Live satirizes the media’s response to the plight of poor farmers, some of whom resort to suicide to escape debt. The movie got a good response at a number of film festivals, including Sundance.

Peepli Live, which has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 46 min., opens in the Chicago area on Friday, August 13, 2010 in four theaters:

Other Hindi movies carrying over in theaters include Aisha at the Golf Glen 5, South Barrington 30 and Cantera 30, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai at the Golf Glen 5 and South Barrington 30 and Tere Bin Laden at the Golf Glen 5.

In addition to those current films, this week the Golf Glen 5 is featuring special showings of older Bollywood movies. The terrific lineup includes:

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil movie Thillalangadi at Sathyam Cinemas in Downers Grove and Telugu flick Don Seenu at the Golf Glen 5, which features a special showing of the 1996 Tamil film Indian on Wednesday night.