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E-Pao! Film Review - Chuck and Flick: A short comment on Chak De! India

Chuck and Flick: A short comment on Chak De! India

By: Ringo Pebam
(with inputs from Supriya, Duran) *


Molly Zimik (Position: Left Half, Jersey No.: 6, Home State: Manipur)
Mary Ralte (Position: Substitute, Jersey No.: 15, Home State: Mizoram)

The talented hockey duo from the North East. Their school books taught them that they are Indians but Indians taught them otherwise. The only reason they play for the National team is that it is the only National team they can play for. They would love to belong but not to the team that calls them 'foreign', and definitely not to the people that call them 'loose'. So they stick together and play. For the love of the game and the honour of their people.


That's a small description of Molly and Mary in Chak-De-India - the movie.

Since the day I saw the promo of this movie, I thought I would love it for various subjective as well as objective reason. Not that the movie’s main protagonist was the King Khan or SRK as he is lovingly called by his Bollywood aficionados and not the least that there were two girls of the Mongoloid stock in the film, but just because it is not based on big-bucks-making cricketers in a cricket crazy country.

There is one more thing I liked about the movie, it defied the conventional Bollywood blockbuster prototype: doing away with typical song-dance, hero-heroine melodrama, hero-villain fights, or the overdosed jingoism.

Though the story revolve around the former hockey player and coach Meer Ranjan Negi, SRK donning the role of Kabir Khan, the coach with the girls dared to question familiar prejudice that exist in Indian society. Chak De India is loved by the audience for various reasons. In popular medium, it highlights the tension between communities across the country on another familiar terrain called sports.

The big narrative of the movie goes like this:
A disgraced former hockey captain trains a bunch of girls to win the World Cup. He infuses collective killer instincts in them despite cultural and ethnic odds the girls encounter between themselves. And when the girls bring home the CUP, it was “the triumph” of Nationalism over gender, culture, region and ethnic bias.

This Bollywood flick in some sense succeeds in challenging and demolishing several stereotypes, yet it still suffers from inadequate pre-production research. For decades, we have known that REAL, (NOT REEL) girls from Jharkhand, Orissa and the North East, particularly Manipur have been notable performers in Indian women's hockey team.

Jyoti Sunita Kullu, Sumarai Tete, Marystella Tirkey, Helen Soy, Adline Kerketta, Ferdina Ekka, Masira Surin, Annarita Kerketta, Binita Toppo, Binita Xess, Asunta Lakra, Suniti Kispotta, Poonam Toppo are some players from tribal belts of Jharkhand and Orissa. Notable national players from Manipur include Ksh. Tingongleima Devi Sangai Ibemhal Chanu and Pakpi Devi, all from Manipur.

If Chak De India glorifies the contributions of these girls with reel characters like Soi Moi Kerketta and Rani Khispotta (screen names), it has done the same with Molly Zimik and Mary Ralte. But the sad fact in the film has been that these characters were reduced to just glorified extras without fleshing out the grit that shaped the real characters.

I know, I am asking too much from a fiction based on Indian women’s hockey. But as Avijit Ghosh in an editorial on the Times of India dated August 24, 2007, says the trouble with the movie is that the way “it has been conceived and the subtext it represents. The movie creates the stereotype of the “ignorant other/tribal”.

Now it is time to ask oneself:

Why people from the “unknown” part called North East feel out of place in mainland India? How they want to be treated as just another Indian rather than a foreigner or a guest in their own country? (Just *one* example: How we were asked to pay 600 Rs/- per head (which was for foreigners) as an entry fee for visiting Taj-Mahal inspite of telling them that that we are Indians?)

How women feel on being looked down upon as “lesser human”? (In the movie, Preeti Sabarwal challenged her fiancé that her gooli-danda will bring her at the zenith “Ek londe ko dikhana hain ki ek londiyan kya kar sakti hain”)

How does a Muslim feel when treated as the other Indian? How easily a Muslim player can be tagged as a traitor for errors he makes on the field?

What are the views of the literate people on people of developing states like Jharkhand, Manipur?

How North Indians view South Indians? – the assumption that all communities south of the Vindya Ranges are Madrasis.

How sports authorities in India look down on women players? How sports are promoted considering only the profits and revenues and not the spirit of the game?

Hamaare hockey mein cricket ki tara chakke nahin hote

If you had played hockey (even with kangjei made out of waa (lechei maru)) in your leikais, if the scars of the bruises and injuries on our knee and legs can still be seen, or if you had heard about Neel Kamal - the goal keeper of the Indian team in 1984 Olympics, or if you had seen Thoiba and Tiken dribbling the ball, zig-zagging through the defenders and making goals in the late 1980s in your black and white TV screens - this movie is worth watching.

Scenes to be savored:

  1. Mary and Molly telling the guy in the registration counter of the hockey association, how he would feel to be treated as a guest in his own country.


  2. That scene at McDonalds when the girls get together to beat the burgers out of boys for lewd comments to the two north-east girls is not just a political statement about gender supremacy, it is symbolic of national integration, team spirit and also, a beautiful, cathartic release of their collective angst combined with the guilt of chucking their coach out of the team, triggered by what is otherwise a routine incident of everyday sexual abuse. (You will remember you college days when you are a lone 'chinky', and some local rowdies picks up a fight with you and your good college 'mayang' friends come to your rescue.)


  3. When SRK stops a goonda about to attack his girls with a cricket bat from behind saying: "Hamare Hockey main Chakkey Nahin Hai".


  4. When the Indian men's team lifted their hockey sticks in appreciation for the women team who played on par with them, something they never thought they would. The gender discrimination and the gender divide - something that the society is accustomed to.

Scenes that were expected:

Being a Manipuri and acknowledging the contributions of state’s women to Indian hockey, I wish Director Shimit Amin and Writer Sahni had focused on the two characters from the region. It is another matter that the names do not belong to the community from the state which in reality was part of the Indian women Hockey team when it actually won the Common Wealth Games title.

The director should have given Mary Ralte a little more screen space/time in the field doing magic with the stick and the ball. In one of the NDTV shows, Sahni is reported to have expressed how sorry he felt on not giving Mary much role in the movie. Good that he acknowledges that a player like Mary deserves that, good that he honestly admits slips in the movie.

This write up is not a review neither is a promotion of the Bollywood flick. It is an appreciation of the makers’ effort to highlight issues of the society besides the game hockey. Anyway, if you are thinking of watching this movie, try to refrain from watching at home on small screen, better go to a movie theater and watch it with unknown people enjoying the thrill in unison. There will be people clapping and whistling throughout the movie, it will surely be a nice experience.

It was *actors* that you see in the movie. Here they are, ladies and gentleman, here they are - the players in real life.

Indian Women Team after winning the 2002 Commonwealth Games Hockey Champions


Tingonleima Kshetrimayum Suraj Lata Waikhom Sanggai Chanu Maimom
Photo Courtesy Getty Images

Tingonleima Kshetrimayum, Suraj Lata Waikhom and Sanggai Chanu Maimom were part of the India Women’s hockey team that won gold in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. (The picture of the triumphant Indian team above is one of those that came in newspapers in 2002 that caught the eyes of my non-Manipuri roommates who bought it home for me, and how proud I felt. Hope you all were too. )

The 1984 Indian Hockey Team

Neel Kamal, Thoiba, Tiken and others who played in the Olympics and Asian Games are also recommended to watch this flick. With misty eyes recalling their heydays they would love to watch this movie. But so sorry for them, it will not be shown in Manipur as Hindi Movies are banned in the state. Is the ban really helping the cause? Maybe, maybe not - the voiceless people out there only know the best.

NOTE:

  1. Many thanks to Supriya Shijagurumayum (Mumbai) and Duran Thiyam (Mumbai) for the inputs and help given for this write up.
  2. If mention of any other Manipuri player's name is missed out in this article, it’s truly unintentional.


Pictures and Refrences:
http://www.bharatiyahockey.org
www.yashrajfilms.com/microsites/cdi/cdi.html

* Ringo Pebam, a software Engineer in Bangalore and GNU/LINUX enthusiast, writes regularly to e-pao.net. He can be contacted at ringo_pebam(at)yahoo(dot)com . This article was webcasted on August 26, 2007.



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