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Some Ramblings - Chak De! India
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
chak de india

Diversity, unlike how it is portrayed on big screens, doesn't work all that well in real life. Refer back to all the national integration videos made by PrasarBharati (it was the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting back then) for public consumption on public television, back in late 80s, with all the artists from the four corners of the world coming together to sing in unison, hitting the right notes, without missing a beat, in just the right harmony - the Tamilian rubs shoulders with the Punjabi, the Malayali locks his hands with the Manipuri and the Telugu guy seems to be at home with the U.P.Bhaiyya. The country couldn't look any closer, any friendlier and any stronger. The diverse cultures amalgamating in a glorious melting pot, producing an profound product, vibrant in its variation, richer in texture and enriching in its experience. Now, the reality - the linguistic basis on which states have been split, statuses have been accorded, produced the first deep cut, clearly separating one set of people from another. Though the criterion felt very logical and very intuitive back in the 50s, the country found a great way of feuding with itself. The limited resources, when distributed, invariably, unequally among two sets of peoples, became the focal point of allegations like partiality, partisanship and favoritism. If Cauvery waters are accorded more, by the impartial Water Tribunal, to one faction, it could cause the other side to rise up in arms, literally, target particular groups and perform ethnic cleansing. When Mumbaikars feel (justly or unjustly is a matter of different discussion for a different time) that outsiders (Madrasis, Bangladeshis, or Northies) are invading their city, denying them of their jobs, resources and opportunities, new slogans are unveiled, agitations are launches, specific groups are targeted, and thereby wresting the privilege initiative back to home team. Despite belonging to a common heritage and somewhat similar culture, the country, celebrating its 60th year of independence, seems to be unified, only in despair, disaster and gloom seem to pass over, while during the rest of the time, is busy bickering, bringing the development and progress to, either a snail pace or sometimes, dead halt. Amidst such vitriolic atmosphere, it begs to asked, does diversity work for the benefit or for the detriment of the society.

In a country with such a diverse landscape, the only two areas, where diversity doesn't cast its debilitating shadow, if one can discount the times of disasters, are, armed forces and group sports. Both these areas strive for one thing, and one thing alone, at all costs - victory. In both these arenas, the constant strife for excellence, dwarfs the obvious differences and glaring irregularities of everyday life. They accept the big elephant in the room, the cultural chasm, and move on to bigger and better things, than get bogged down tangled up in the trivialities. And this is just with the cultural divide. Throw in religion into the mix, and it adds even more complexity to the already muddled issue of diversity. As an example, it is an accepted fact that Wasim Akram is probably the greatest left arm fast bowler that ever graced the field. Imagine the same fact blurted out in a nonchalant way by a Hindu and it goes largely unnoticed. Now, if the same fact is reiterated by a Muslim, living in India, it suddenly brings up issues like allegiance and patriotism to the fore. A country that is faith-blind when it comes to supporting sides (again, the only two that enjoy such universal unequivocal patronage - military & sports), suddenly finds itself asking questions about loyalty, when it comes to individuals within those selected groups. A country would gladly embrace a Muslim captain, but when one of its own Muslim citizens starts talking about the talent on the other side of the fence, eyebrows rise and looks are exchanged. The double-standard that exists on the outside, thankfully, hasn't crept into the above said institutions yet, for the only reason that the inherent discipline in both these structures refuse to give away, even in the face of trying conditions. Discipline wipes away the fine lines that separate classes, bridges the deep gorges that divide cultures, and instill a value of brotherhood, a sense of pride and a constant drive for accomplishment. And in effect, Chak De India is all about inculcating discipline in a diverse mob. Though individual brilliances are always celebrated in such group atmospheres, the emphasis is more on the means than on the ends.

Diversity in Hindi films has always been very Utopian. Whenever a Ramu Kaka gets into trouble, there is always a Qadir miya from the neighborhood, or a Baljeet bhai who seems to be passing by, coming to Kaka's side and aid, in a way that fit the grander scheme of national integration. Only a few, a very minor few, chose to depict the reality of the Indian society without smoothening out around the edges - Tamas, Earth, and the recent Black Friday - for the sole reason that the average audience is uncomfortable to confront his prejudices and shatter his stereotypical mindset. While the above movies try to ask the serious questions in a confrontational way, a slightly palatable way to pose those same questions is what is attempted in Chak De, in what is considered to be a sacred arena - sports. Get a huge production house, known for its dreamy, escapist entertainment fares, to have a change of heart, hire the right technicians to back up a story that is devoid of any candy-floss and glossy finishes, give complete creative freedom and the right to reserve the final judgments to the maker, and importantly, not bother about the commercial viability of such a venture - the result is Chak De India, the first movie that Yash Raj Productions could feel proud about (returning the company to the roots and the visions of its founder, Yash Chopra, the maker of many off-beat, artistic, serious fares such as Lamhe, Silsila, Kabhie Kabhie, Kala Patthar, Trishul to name a few). Terming Chak De as just as sports movie does gross injustice to what it was aiming for - a social experiment aimed at making diversity work for the advancement of a cause, an inspired way to instill discipline to tackle the task at hand. Just like how "Sarfarosh", a few years ago, became the first movie to name names involved in cross-border terrorism, Chak De is certainly the first Indian movie to depict the many facets of diversity in an honest, sincere and realistic way.

In India, hockey has been added to the list of the items about the glorious past to gloat about, probably next to the mighty Mughal Empire and Sepoy Mutiny. With lack of patronage, and consequently, lack of sponsorship, the sport has completely lost its sheen, and the only time it attracts any attention (and that too, for all the wrong reasons) is when the opponent is Pakistan. With such a lackluster sport as the backdrop, and upping the ante even further by siding with the women's side of the sport, India's chances of becoming an economic and military superpower overnight might sound a credible statement next to proclamation that the fictional women's hockey team in going to win the World Cup. Making the impossible possible has always been the mission statement of movies, but to do so without compromising on conventional wisdom and basic logic, makes Chak De a unique production, that does not pander for easy cheers and quick claps. In its constant comparison to cricket, that has all the eyes and ears of the nation in terms of popularity, money and importantly, acceptance, the movie paints a very grim portrait of the only sport that is still considered as the "national" sport, despite the support and the encouragement it has received from the government. The movie deserves a sound round of applause for the way the hockey matches are staged. The hand-held camera constantly creating an effect of kinetic confusion only to be cleared out by expert editing, takes the games to near-realistic heights, a feat quite difficult in sports involving constant movement. Above all Shah Rukh Khan brings not only the star power to drag the audiences into the theater, but also the credibility, a certain gravitas to the role, helped by the fact that he, a Muslim, can understand and emote quite well what a fellow Muslim sportsman goes through, catching a raw deal at the admiration table, in real life situations. It does not pull any punches, it gives all it has got, and in doing so Chak De races all the way to the goal post, rarely fumbling or stumbling. Now, if only, the makers hired that Spanish commentator who cries out GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAL!

More Ramblings on films
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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