Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chak De India

Not a Film Festival showing, just one of our regular Bollywood screenings. When Hilary and Vanessa went, they were the sole Caucasians in an audience of around ten. I was one of three in an audience of around 25.

Writing this post is difficult, because I could write an informative review that would be largely incomprehensible to the BollyVirgin, or one for the general public that would miss lots out. Care needed, then.

OK, let's begin with the basics. Chak De India is a film of normal Bollywood length - around 2h40 - but with no intermission. It stars Shah Rukh Khan who is the biggest male name in Bollywood (apart from Amitabh Bachchan who is now old and being picky - in his ObiWan years, as it were). SRK, as he is known, plays Kabir Khan, a (wrongly) disgraced former captain of the Indian hockey team who takes on the challenge of coaching the Indian women's hockey team. So far, so A League Of Their Own, and Bollywood is always ready to copy a Hollywood model. Except that there's more to CDI than that. SRK - of course - moulds his women into a team, qualifies for the World Championship, and eventually wins it (come on, this is Bollywood, that isn't a spoiler!). What is interesting is the emphasis on both feminism and inter-regional prejudice in India. Feminsism: you think you know what it is, and maybe you think India does pretty well, what with Indira and Sonia and the rest. Well, the big problem in India is not so much getting women into senior mangement positions as getting women into adult life, or even into life. This is a country where pre-natal sex determination is illegal because it would lead to selective abortion of females; where a significant number of women die each year as a result of "dowry killings", where their husband's family murders them (usually in a "tragic stove fire") because they brought insufficient dowry with them. OK, the sexist Indian Hockey Association guys in the film are your standard Bollywood caricatures, but the film makes a big thing of being proud of being an Indian woman ("..because some men just don't understand that if a woman can give them life, she can do anything"). The film also pillories regional prejudices in India, with both the Delhi officials and other team members making all kinds of inappropriate comments on appearance, language, etc. SRK is at pains to forge a national identity for his team, and bans all mention of the women's original states. One of the actresses (Chitrashi Rawat, who plays Komal Chautala) is a state-level hockey player in real life (for Uttaranchal) and she has said that she thinks regionalism is the biggest threat to Indian hockey. It would be great if this film changed that at all.

The film has no dance numbers; SRK doesn't cry; there are no other really big names in it (though there are some pretty hot - in all senses - newcomers among the hockey team); yet this is one of my favourite Bollywood films. It manages to deal with serious issues without being preachy, and to be funny without being trivial. People are describing SRK's performance as one of his best, and I'd second that. He isn't allowed to over-act but he clearly identifies with the part. (SRK is an Indian Muslim as is his character Kabir Khan, wrongly accused of throwing an India-Pakistan match.) Islamophobia is a problem worldwde, but one only needs to say the word Ayodhya to be reminded of its specifically Indian dimension.

Apart from its length, this could in short be the Bollywood film to convert the non-Bollywood fan. As it is, that role is probably best left to Dil Chahta Hai.


At 30 August, 2007 16:53, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Wait a minute - no big song and dance numbers? Can't be from India then.

At 30 August, 2007 19:43, Blogger Udge said...

I saw my first Bollywood on the plane to New York: Namastey London, and quite enjoyed it. Easily up to par with the usual run of Hollywood dross.


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