Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chak De India

Is the story of determination, of dreams and of success. It is the jubilation of a young team, brought into cohesion by the efforts of one man, who seeks to redeem himself as a coach by making them achieve what he could not as a player.

What's the Story?
The movie opens into the final of the mens' World Hockey Championships, where India and Pakistan have locked horns, with Pakistan leading 1-0. Into the final moments of the game, India is awarded a penalty stroke, and to take that comes the captain, Kabir Khan. Khan strikes, fails to score and India lose. A shroud of silence drapes over the Indian camp even as Pakistan erupts in whoops of joy. For having lost the match, and congratulated a Pakistani team mate, Kabir Khan is slapped with charges of match-fixing, named a traitor and shorn of his place in the Indian national team.

Seven years, three months and fourteen days later, he walks into the Association meeting room, seeking an appointment to coach the Indian National Womens' Hockey team - a post which no one is keen to take up. Khan is given 16 of the best hockey players in the country, and his problem is that they know how to play against, but not with each other. On the one hand he has to cope with the inter-state cultural differences; on the other, the senior players' indiffererence. He starts with the basics, and begins to untie one knot after the other, and succeeds in uniting the team - against him. And when they can bear his strict, almost Hitleresque regime no more, the team decides not to practice under him, and Khan resigns as the coach of the team.

A day of reflection passes, and the team realises that there is no point in having Khan sacked, that for all his histrionics, he had indeed succeeded in making them more productive as a team than the day they had walked into the camp. The next morning at 5, Khan is back on the field training his girls. Polarised and charged up, looking at a distant dream, their game begins to rise. But they are cut down to their place when the Association drops the plan of sending them to the World Championships for lack of sponsors.

When no amount of convincing works, as a last resort, Khan challenges the Association's bronze medal winning mens' team to play against his team. He knows his girls are underprepared, but he uses the stinging remarks of the Association office bearers to good effect. The girls eventually lose, but their fighting spirit is given a standing ovation by the mens' team and the Association sends them to represent India at the World Cup.

The team arrives in Australia, with a lot to prove. Kabir, to win this World Cup, and let the world know that he indeed played and plays for India. Vidya Sharma, the Indian goalkeeper, to tell her husband and in-laws that a daughter-in-law need not be confined to the kitchen. Preeti Sabarwal, forward, to show her boyfriend (and Indian cricket team vice-captain), that hockey means as much to her as cricket to him. Bindiya Naik, center-forward (most experienced and miffed at not being made captain), seeking to bring down the coach and captain.

After a humiliating 7-0 loss to Australia in the first round, the initial euphoria of having come to the World Cup settles, and the team begins to become aware of its lacunae. The loss manages to ignite the fire in the team, and match after match, the team begins to advance towards the final like a hungry lion devouring its prey. You don't need me to tell you what happens next, do you?

What's good in it?
Lots. Maybe for the first time since Swades, Shahrukh has put in a sober performance sans any overacting. On certain occasions, like the one where he is called a traitor, or when he stands in the rain after a humiliating defeat, he conjures up a controlled performance, which is worth sitting for once more through the movie. However, Yash Raj does give him a chance, and when he says "sattar minute" nine times in a single monologue, you feel he has suddenly reverted to Captain Veer Pratap Singh of Veer Zaara saying "Main Quaidi number saat sau chiassi..."

The scenes inside of the dressing room have been brought out well. It shows how seniors can gang up together and influence the team against the coach or the association. It depicts how senior players can cut juniors down to their place - when a junior runs up to congratulate a senior and says she is glad to have met her, the senior responds, "Achcha? Toh naacho". Or when the seniors say, "Ye coach kya samajhta hai, subah uthke 20 km daudne se hockey achcha khelenge? ye koi tareeka hai national level players ko treat karne ka? Kya hum training nahi jaante?"

Comparisons cannot but be drawn to cricket. You begin to wonder if Sourav may have said the same things when Greg Chappell said he did not show up at training sessions. While on cricket, ample effort has been made to let the powers-that-be know that hockey, though the national sport, has been always under cricket's shadow. Harmless fun has also been poked at the Hockey Association, and it provides humourous interludes.

The acting team has been trained well to play and the playing team has been trained well to act - the camaraderie shows on screen. Editing is crisp and the movie moves ahead slickly, dragging only at a few places. Songs are hummable, and during the film raise goosepimples on your arms. Excellent background score by Salim-Sulaiman, especially a couplet which goes "Maula Mere Le Le Meri Jaan". This movie has the right mix of patriotism, sport and human nature, and it has been shot and cut well to ensure commercial success. In Indian cinema, this will be hockey's answer to Lagaan. After Ab Tak Chappan, this will be Shimit Amin's second bull's eye.

Reco: Must-watch.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gandhi, My Father

... is a poignant story, bringing out the angst of an unsuccessful son of an iconic father. It throws into spotlight the extreme emotions undergone by Harilal, who is overawed by his father’s aura, and wants to emulate him in his own life, when Gandhi, with his stubbornness and his inability to draw his lines where the country was concerned, always manages to put a spoke in his wheels.

What's the story?
The film begins with Gandhi’s displeasure of his son getting married, although it was he who approved the alliance. After marriage, Harilal joins Gandhi’s self-styled ashram in Phoenix, SA, where he helps his father in odd jobs at the press while preparing himself for a scholarship to go to England to study law. However, it is Gandhi’s desire to have Harilal help him in his grandiose plans for India’s freedom. Initially, Harilal acquiesces, in the hope that his father will somehow pull some strings and get him the scholarship. But when Gandhi refuses his education as a mark of protest against Western education, the seeds of discord are sown between the father and the son.

During a protest rally in SA, Harilal gets arrested. His hopes of his father pleading his case are shattered when Gandhi uses him as a guinea pig to test his new theory of passive resistance. Harilal is jailed as his father offers him no defence, and he sees his dreams of further studies going down the drain. His only source of strength is his wife Gulab, who keeps renewing Harilal’s dreams of being successful. But when he sees her leaving for India after he is jailed, Harilal realises that his father is employing arm-bending tactics to retain him in SA.

Once released from jail, he plots his return to India without his father's consent but is unsuccessful and father and son have a chat, where Harilal stresses that he is a common man, and the air of expectancy lingering around him due to his illustrious father is too much for him to bear. This is one of the many landmark points in the film which has you taking sides - while on the one hand you think Gandhi was just in retaining his son for the freedom movement; on the other, you also feel that Harilal has his own niche to carve.

Back in India, Harilal has one more hand at his studies, fails, gets himself a job, and manages to keep his life going. Gandhi returns to India, and gets busy with the freedom movement. Harilal approaches his father to lend him some money for business. Gandhi, as was his wont, pleads his inability as he does not maintain a "personal fortune" and will not ask any others for favours. Instead, he asks Harilal to come into his folds and join the freedom movement. Hari will not have any of it, and leaves.

Never having a business mind, Harilal stocks up on western fabric to sell them at a premium after the World War, but Gandhi brings in the swadeshi movement, and Harilal incurs losses. In his shortsightedness, he teams up with a team of sycophants, and allows them to collect funds in the name of Gandhi and make away with a sizeable fortune. When betrayed people approach Gandhi for redressal, Gandhi issues a public statement claiming his son does not have his backing anymore. This catches the attention of the Muslim fraternity, and they pay up the loans of a debt-ridden Harilal in a godfatherly gesture. Being almost disowned, Harilal decides to hit back on Gandhi by giving himself unto Islam and becoming Abdullah Gandhi. Nevertheless, his being a Gandhi secures him preferential treatment, which does not go very well with the Muslims, and Harilal reconverts to Hinduism by associating himself to the Arya Samaj.

In all of this, the tag of being Gandhi's son weighs down on him. Every action of his is judged whether it is worthy of someone who has a father like Gandhi himself. Drunk, ill, and hopelessly confused, he wanders along not knowing where he would get his next meal, when he hears of Gandhi's assassination. It is too much for him to bear. Five months after Gandhi died, his eldest son breathes his last in the cold corridor of a government hospital like a lone street urchin, brought in by the police, and ignored by everyone else.

What's good in it?
All the actors deliver a staggering performance, which may well be their career-best. The best performance will, of course, be debatable. While Akshaye does deliver a class-act everyone will remember for a long time, Darshan Jariwalla plays Gandhi to the hilt. In fact this man oozes Gandhi, and rightly so, is being talked about after the release. However, it may be attributed to the fact that Gandhi's mannerisms were known to the public through numerous films, and we have a notion of him. You only have to say Gandhi, and we have in our minds a dhoti clad "half-naked fakir", with a bald pate and a bright smile. And because no one knows how Harilal was, the absence of a original may just be a factor in not appreciating the imitation, and we may just have underrated Akshaye. Shefali Shah and Bhumika Chawla impress in their roles as Gandhi's wife and daughter-in-law.

Cinematography is top-notch, with scenes fading in and out at every logical cut-to-event. In fact, a very meticulous approach has been taken, and the hard work has paid off. This movie will be counted as one of the classics in Indian cinema, an extraordinary improvement in the quality and detailing of movies made on true events.

Recommendation: Must-Watch!!!