Sunday, September 30, 2007

chakde india

Chak de! India - Team vs. Nation

Chakde! India is a feel good movie for sure; one which celebrates the victorious comeback of the underdogs. Who doesn't love to identify with the underdogs provided they make it in the end? So, Chak de sees to it that, all the dilemmas and conflicts it triggered are tied back to a neat finale. The honour of the humiliated coach Kabir Khan (played in a very charmingly subdued manner by Shahrukh Khan) is reclaimed. The bureaucratic committee is silenced. The inner squabbles within the team about regional differences, culture, seniority, sharing, identity etc are sorted out. And in the end, Indian women's hockey team wins the world cup defeating the six-times champions Australia! His honour restored, Kabir Khan is able to come back to his ancestral home after an exile of 7 years and closes the door of his house on a victorious note. The pride of Indian flag has been saved to fly high above its subjects. But at whose cost?

For instance, why should a Muslim essentially be a traitor until he proves his patriotism? Why is this burden of proof and performance always thrust upon them? Why is his patriotism always linked to performance and worth? This is all the more striking because the 'Muslim question' is strongly posed only in this one instance - in fact in the prelude to the film. Significantly, it is a Muslim coach who 'unites' an otherwise chaotic rabble of players from all over the country. This is the exact replica of the communal logic in reverse; there you have the Muslim uniting India oppositionally as its other and enemy!

It is also interesting to note how the logic of achievement – a favourite Hollywood theme in this genre of films – is adapted to the Indian situation. While Hollywood unequivocally celebrates the spirit of the individual and his/her ambitions and achievement, here in Chakde!, individualism and difference is constantly critiqued and put down. The mission of the coach is to nip any individual or identity assertions at the bud – whether it be that of the region, playing positions or internal hierarchies. He wants them to put all this behind and meld into one whole to perform and save india and himself from ignominy. The contrast between cricket and hockey is an extension of this logic. In the film cricket stands for individual glory and benefits, while hockey is sported as 'the team game' representing all the values of 'good old india'.

The internal squabbles in the team, fuelling the feeling 'if only we stood together, we would be a super power', are based upon very stereotypical figures from various regions. The big, short tempered Punjabi, the coarse and unsophisticated Jharkandi, the urban rich arrogance of the Chandigarh player, the carefree ones from the North East etc play their popular identity roles, later to be purged and merged into the 'nation' of a performing team. Obviously differences do not perform and is anathema to team work and achievement. And who else can sort and stamp out all these internal female differences in the team (read family) but the male coach (Father)?

Maybe only if India melds all the differences into a monolithic, performing whole, can Kabir Khan's own Muslim identity become non-problematic. Or is it the other way round? Is he fighting all kinds of differences exactly because it is for being the other that he was humiliated and punished as anti-national.

But isn't the concept of the team one that brings together and works on the synergy between differences in personal talents and field positions? But ironically, in the Chakde! , it has to be supplanted by the uniformity that the 'nation' demanded from Kabir Khan.

So, if in the colonial India of Lagaan differences couldn't be suppressed, in competitive and globalised India, differences are something to be sacrificed at the altar of achievement

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Blogger Qalandar said...

I had a different take on the film, but this is a superb review, and very thought-provoking indeed.

2:47 PM  
Blogger venkiteswaran said...

thanks qalandar
what did u think of it?

7:27 AM  
Blogger vasudevan said...

but actually the team was united by a unified resistance aganist male attack!!!!!and there is NO love in this film.its such a reliefthat some time people have more important things to do! and the only negative [yes its a big one]thing is [as u pointed out]silencing various cultural identies by a big national voice...its very important that they consider telugu/tamil or any south indian languages as ONE and they dont know what is north east .the film correctly portrays it..but somewhere all cultures have to be mixed and made one to make it INDIA.
thats the problem all indian states really face and try to forget merging in main stream of culture...
the Muslim thing is a real deep cultural and political pratheekam as u pointed out
i liked the review

12:31 AM  
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