New Delhi: With its message of patriotism, secularism and women’s empowerment, “Chak De! India” continues to be a film for the times 10 years on, says the team of Shimit Amin, Jaideep Sahni and Shah Rukh Khan.
For director Shimit, story writer Jaideep and star Shah Rukh, this is one that will live on, and not just in their filmographies.
Born from Jaideep’s anger at the apathy towards women athletes, the film tells the story of an unsung women’s hockey team and their disgraced coach Kabir Khan seeking redemption in their world cup victory.
“The film is patriotic without being jingoist, it is cool without being frivolous, it is intense but not boring,” Shah Rukh told PTI.
“Chak De!”, regarded as one of Indian cinema’s most successful and loved sports films, was released on August 10, 2007.
Shah Rukh says he did the film, which he describes as one of the most special in his career, for his father.
“Shimit made it beautifully and I am glad that Adi (producer Aditya Chopra) thought of me as Kabir Khan. They waited for me for more than a year. The heart and the soul of the film are the young girls.”
Due to his romantic hero persona, many thought he would not be able to pull off Kabir Khan’s character, says Shah Rukh.
“It is one of the few films of mine which opened very poorly. I was really disturbed.
“My father used to play hockey. The only reason I did this film was because I could use something that my father had taught me. I was emotionally attached with the film. But it did really well after opening poorly.”
He was so nervous about the film’s future that he left for London. “It was a lovely film and I did not want to hear all that (negativity).”
Shimit says the team approached the story with idealism.
“We felt it was a special film and something that would be made on its own. We believed in the idealism of what we were doing. We had this amazing sense that we were going to make the best film that we could. There was no calculation involved.”
The director, who went on to make “Rocket Singh”, says “Chak De!” did not impress viewers in a test screening. They realised they had a successful film only after its release.
Asked why they picked Shah Rukh for a role that involved no romance, the director says they wanted someone with a certain kind of grace and dignity.
“Shah Rukh had that presence. He had that maturity. He also came from a middle class background. There were a lot of things that felt right about him. Adi pitched the film to SRK and he told us that it sounded very interesting to him.”
Amongst Shimit’s favourite moments from the film is Kabir Khan’s “Yeh sattar minute” monologue.
“This was a sports film and we needed a motivational speech. It was exciting to see SRK act that part. He really killed it.”
Another favourite scene is Kabir Khan’s reaction when the team actually wins — they are no tears, no hugs just a deep sigh as he turns away from the euphoria on the field.
The director says he is glad that they did not opt for a conventional ending.
“When you come to think of it, this is not a very ‘filmy’ moment. We had seen a Japanese coach react like that during Olympics. The idea behind the scene was that this person has given so much of himself that he no longer knows how to react.
“He had held himself together for this particular moment and then he just does not know. There is a separation that starts for him right at that moment. He realises that he is no longer a part of this game and has done his bit and it is now over.”
For writer Jaideep, the story is a “piece of his heart” he shared with the world.
“As a writer I feel like ‘Chak De!’ is a piece of my heart which now belongs to everybody. There were things that we felt very emotional about and we wanted to say those things with the film,” says the man who also wrote “Khosla Ka Ghosla” and “Company”.
The writer says they were very careful in portraying patriotism in the film.
“Patriotism does not mean ignoring our own shortcomings and just going on praising ourselves. It is about seeing the shortcomings and rising above it. Patriotism does not mean criticising people who are different from us or the countries which are different from us.”
It all started when he spotted an article about women’s athletes in the back page of a newspaper, a story, he says, that should have been on the front page.
“Women athletes have always been great. It is just that nobody knew about them. The more time I spent with them the more angry I became. They are not the first people that come to your mind when you think about national heroes. The whole motivation was to create a bridge between them and the rest of the country,” Sahni says.