Saturday, August 11, 2007


Chak De India

There is a mile-long list of Hollywood sports films that follow the underdog-beating-champ formula. In India too, a film like Lagaan would stand out amidst the small bunch of lesser films.

So when one goes in to see Chak De India (inspired by Miracle among others) one knows exactly what to expect in terms of plot; in this case it’s the ‘how’ that’s more important, since the ‘what’ is known.

Shimit Amin’s Chak De India has a disgraced hockey player Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) return seven years after he was accused of throwing a match to Pakistan, and offer to coach the women’s hockey team that is to participate in the world cup. In spite of the skepticism of the bureaucrats, he is hired, and 16 girls arrive from all over the country for training.

Amin (and writer Jaideep Sahni) make some throwaway comments about people’s ignorance about their country—the girls from Jharkhand and the North East have to face the silliest questions.

Kabir’s first task is to make the girls rally around into an Indian team, rather that players from various state teams. There is the usual friction between the girls over small matters like bunk allocation. The experienced players—particularly the cynical Bindiya Naik (Shilpa Shukla)—resent the tough regime Kabir puts them through.

The girls get mutinous, till an ordinary incident of eve-teasing unites them, and now they are ready for the game as it should be played. All this is fairly predictable, what is more interesting is what is not underlined—like the dingy room and awful bathroom the girls have to share, while the cricketer boyfriend of one of the girls lounges in five star comfort.

The back-stories of the girls needed more fleshing out perhaps, instead of the inordinate amount given to the world cup matches. The tribal girls from Jharkhand for instance—how did they even get this far? More about the relationships and rivalries between the girls, would have also made a difference to the otherwise conventional story. It’s not as if the actual women’s hockey win at the Commonwealth Games, that inspired Chak De India, rescued the sport from near-oblivion, so it’s not so much the game as the impact it made on the lives of these ordinary girls that would have given the film more meaning. The supercilious cricketer gets dumped by his victorious fiancee, but what about the married girl (Vidya Malavade), for instance? Is she able to go back and become the ideal ‘bahu’ her family wants her to be? Will the hefty Balbir (Tanya Abrol) and the little Komal (Chitrashi Rawat), ever go back to a normal existence after the heady experience of winning.

Instead of the untold little stories, Amin goes for broad patriotic strokes of the flag-waving kind. The essence of the film comes together in Kabir’s “70-minute” speech— where the SRK magic is most prominent—but there’re too few of these heart-stopping moments.

The biggest strength of the film is in the casting of ordinary actors who offset Shah Rukh’s dazzling star power, by becoming their parts—the matronly assistant coach for one, is fabulous.

For sportslovers, the film is still worth the price of a ticket. Amin delivers some fine hockey action. It’s just that you want more than that winning goal.

The Blue Umbrella

Vishal Bharadwaj’s The Blue Umbrella won the National Award for Best children’s film, but it is one of those films that would appeal more to adults. The story of crime, punishment and redemption may be too heavy for kids, but at the same they might enjoy the lighter moments and bursts of colour

Nandkishore (Pankaj Kapur) is a tea-stall owner in a Himachal village, not too popular with kids, because he has the habit of lending them sweets and then grabbing something that belongs to them. The latest episode involves a little boy and his binoculars that Nandkishore covets.

When a little girl Biniya (Shreya Sharma) acquires a beautiful blue umbrella from a Japanese tourist, and trots all over the village with it, Nandkishore wants it too. For Biniya the umbrella is precious and no amount of money and sweets can separate her from it. Then one day gets stolen, and at the same time Nandkishore gets an identical red one, and now he parades about the village like a proud child.

But Biniya finds out that it is her umbrella dyed red, and in punishment for theft, the village ostracises Nandkishore.

Bharadwaj turns the village into an idyllic fairyland, where life is still innocent and pure. An umbrella almost symbolises a sense of corrupt urban (or global) influence of loss of innocence. Even though it turns too dark and moralistic later, the happy ending makes it worthwhile. The beauty of the landscape is as overwhelming as the powerful simplicity (reminiscent of Iranian films) of the story-telling.

Pankaj Kapur is magnificent as the wickedly childlike Nandkishore—he even gets the Himachali accent down pat. Shreya Sharma is pretty and totally unaffected as the girl who inadvertently triggers off a crisis in the village. The actors all look like they were picked from the village, so effortless are they.


When they cast for this film, they must have asked for the biggest hams on earth—including director Amitoj Maan himself.

Kaafila has a fairly topical subject—Asians trying to get to the West illegally. A group of Indians set out for the UK, in the hope that the money they earn there will improve the lives of their families back home.

A Pakistani agent takes a loony and incredibly loud bunch of them to Moscow, from they are to be smuggled via a circuitous route over East Europe to the UK. What they were promised and what they have to go through is quite different. After trekking through forests and snow (they can’t light a fire for fear of being caught, but they shout enough to wake the dead in the next continent!) a few die on the way, more when their boat from Malta (where an item girl has been arranged!) sinks.

Till, this point Kaafila was at least slightly believable. Then it gets totally out of control. A green test tube of liquid plutonium turns up, for which the Russian Mafia and Afghan rebels are squabbling. A mysterious man called Sameer (Sunny Deol), an Afghan freedom fighter (Sana Nawaz) turn up to help. There’s a cache of diamonds changing hands too.

The few that survive take a wrong turn and land up in Afghanistan and after fighting people of just about every nationality (border guards are conspicuously absent) are jailed in Pakistan. It’s difficult to find words to express just how absurd the film is and how tedious to watch. Anyone who survives it till the interval will either walk out, or suffer through just to see how much worse it can get. The best thing about Kaafila is that they shot at some beautiful locations in Tajikistan, Bulgaria and Ladakh.


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