Chak De India is without a doubt a one-of-a-kind Hindi film, one that you'd hardly ever expect to see in Indian cinema, and one that is at par with any great foreign production. It is an exceptional sports film, more because there's much more to it than just a series of games, and you never care about the fact that the ending is easy to predict. Shimit Amin, who previously directed Ab Tak Chapphan, directs the film with great skill, care, and feeling for the subject. Jaideep Sahni is responsible for the fantastic script, and that's where we get an original example of expert storytelling.
This is the story of Kabir Khan, once a hockey star and a captain of the Indian team. Seven years ago, he was accused of treason in favour of Pakistan because he missed a crucial penalty against them. Being a Muslim and being good sport about it did the job and, branded a traitor, Kabir left his ancestral home in shame. We know nothing about what he's been through in these seven years, but we do know that he's got a new chance to prove his innocence when he comes back as the coach of the Indian woman's field hockey team. A chance as crucial as this damned penalty stroke.
The second half is much stronger than the first (not that this one's bad), but that's the case with most sports films as the most enjoyable sequences are often in later portions, when the matches finally take place. And well, it is just full of suspense, tension, and even though I could easily predict the ending, the script and direction were good enough to keep me on the edge of my seat and give me quite a few goosebumps throughout it. In fact several moments throughout the matches were so exhilarating and overwhelming that I found myself jumping up off my seat with sheer joy.
Technically the film is superb. The cinematography is amazing, with the camera moving intelligently to focus the viewer's attention on the proceedings. The film is efficiently edited, and the background score more than contributes to the film, building tension where necessary, and making everything so much more captivating. The title track, "Chak De India" is really a treat. It is patriotic, joyful, and very well used in the film. That the film's songs atypically play only over montage sequences, as opposed to the traditional style of song and dance, is certainly a great plus.
Shahrukh Khan is tremendous. This is one of his most restrained performances, yet his charismatic presence is as evident as ever. He is perfectly natural and controlled in a most nuanced portrayal that never fails to convey the inner pain, the frustration, the hope and the quiet determination to clear his name and finally make a place in the sun. The supporting cast is roundly good, and the girls are great as a group. Shilpa Shukla enjoys the meatiest part, an assertive girl driven by ego and jealousy, and she is excellent. Sagarika Ghatge and Vidya Malvade are pretty and convincing.
Chak De India can be described as patriotic, feminist, but for me it's more than anything about willpower and the importance of hard and collaborative work. It teaches and reaffirms that what really makes such games work--and for that matter, many other things in life--is lots of training, patience, and team work, without which nothing would quite click. According to me the best Hindi film of 2007; a thrilling and inspiring cinematic experience which is worth many a repeat viewing for more than one reason. Take a bow, Mr. Amin, Mr. Sahni, Mr. Khan, and all of you, twelve brave cuties.