4.5 Excellent

For once, I didn’t see actors as actors but as characters. Thank you, Chak De! For once, I thought sports can go beyond cricket. And for once, I thought Chak De delivers the message that most other films try to but fail miserably. Director Shimit Amin has done his best to get the best out of each of his actors. Most importantly, he has got Shah Rukh Khan to step out of his star persona and become hockey coach Kabir Khan.
It also happens to be the first time that King Khan has played a Muslim on the big screen. Not that it matters. What does is the characterisation. At one point, you think of comparing this to Lagaan, another sports-based film with the oppressive British rule as the backdrop. But let us not compare. With the limited canvass and an excellent script, Amin has done wonders and also kept the film within two-and-a-half-hours. Forget the music, forget the fact that it’s about a coach trying to resurrect himself (as the captain of the men’s hockey team seven years ago, he had failed to hit the penultimate goal at the world cup).
When everyone has lost hope on India doing anything in hockey, Khan steps in to become the coach of the women’s hockey team, a ragtag collection of players from different states, languages, accents and cultures. Complicating the proceedings is that each one has a score to settle with the other player. No one is bonding with each other, forget about bonding with the coach. Coach Khan has a tough job on his hands. Not only does he have to prove that he means it when he says he will get India the world cup, but also prove to the team that they are best when they work as a team and not as individuals.
But no, it’s far from preachy and there are no long motivational lectures by Khan. Amin ensures that the dialogues are few and far between and much of the transformation happens through action. And most of all, the realisation seems believable. And motivational. You cry with joy when the players chuck the ball into the goalpost and you grit your teeth when they don’t realise their folly. You become them. And that’s the beauty of this film.
Make no mistake. When they beat their opponents against all odds, you will bring your hands together and clap for India. Yes, the film’s that much more real. And kind of revives the Lagaan days. Thank you, Shah Rukh Khan for letting everyone in the film be stars as well. Thank you, Amin for making this happen. It’s rare to see a sports-based film to work so well for the viewer. But this film does and it shows. The audience in the theatre claps when India wins and Khan resurrects himself from a messy past.
There are a few quibbles, though. Not everyone of the player’s characters is well etched out like the way it was done in Lagaan. Some are silent watchers, some are troublesome, some have their weaknesses, and some are ambitious. Perhaps, there wasn’t enough screentime? Don’t think so. When Ashutosh Gowariker can blend a love story into a film whose selling point is the cricket match, how can Amin not do the same with his characters? The editing is good, but in some parts, it seems a bit abrupt. You can clearly see that some other scenes in the film have been blotted out for brevity. The editing could have been more seamless.
At the same time, the dialogues could have been snappy and more inspirational. On occasions, when Khan is giving his gyaan, one always felt he would say something that’s got some punch, but most times disappoints. Thankfully, he doesn’t when his team is to meet the finalists at the world cup. However, one thing is clear. After you watch this film, you will come away feeling elated with yourself and with the fact that you’ve lived, however briefly, with different characters who make up a mini India. You come away feeling happy for the girls. You come away feeling happy for yourself. It’s a movie that can be watched more than once. So what are you waiting for?