I still remember the feeling of watching Chak De! India for the first time – sheer exhilaration. Shimit Amin (director) and Jaideep Sahni (writer) weaved a story so realistic and engaging, that each goal, each empowering moment, became memorable in its own right.
This is why, even today, these moments from the film remain relevant, though we do wish some things had changed over the years:
1. When Kabir Khan’s treatment exposed the cost of yellow journalism, and the price of a media trial.
Right at the start of the film, India loses to Pakistan. Consequently, a single photo, taken out-of-context and shared with a speculative headline, tarnishes Kabir Khan’s image to the extent that he is forced to quit the game he loves. And move houses. All because of malicious speculation.
2. When the film exposed the lackluster attitude of sports authorities in India, while also throwing light on the dismissive attitude people have towards sportswomen.
Former national hockey player and hockey scout Uttam Singh creates a women’s national team, and arranges a coach for them. But the members of India’s hockey association, themselves, consider that women are fit for only ‘cooking and cleaning’.
And it’s not just the attitude of the authorities that needs changing, but rather, the attitude of people in general, towards women in sports, that needs to change.
3. When the film showcased how prevalent racism is in India, to the extent that people indulge in it, even without realizing they’re being racist.
As players from across the nation start turning up for the national camp, the casual racism they encounter at the hands of eve-teasers and even the camp admin, Sukhi Lal ji, is sadly a reality for most people in India.
Of course, the film also realistically exposed the blatant ignorance and eve-teasing that has become part of our country. However, it did so without exaggerating the issue to create a more dramatic moment than required.
4. When the film proved that in order to win, we need to settle our differences, and focus on our similarities.
Everyone remembers the “sattar minute” speech, but this dialogue was no less legendary. Because, when we represent our country internationally, we only represent India!
And everyone needs to fight equally for their place in the team.
5. When coach Khan reminds the only requirement for a player is to know their sport and play for their country.
While training Balbir, without even being aware of her privilege, shouts that Suimui should know and understand her. That’s when Coach Khan has the perfect response.
A sports player should be judged purely on talent, and talent alone.
6. When it highlighted the way a woman is treated differently, before and after marriage, thanks to patriarchy.
Vidya’s in-laws ask her to quit the game and focus on her familial duties because they believe the only advantage of playing a sport, is the advantages you can get from a sports quota – an attitude that many families in India are guilty of. They don’t care what Vidya wants, because most families ignore their daughter’s and daughter-in-law wishes without a second thought.
This, despite Vidya sharing in advance, what the sport means to her. Because as Khan points out, in India, hockey, is not considered in the same light as other sports or even, other ‘games’.
7. When Kabir Khan talked about how the qualities that make a team are not gendered i.e. a team does not simply become better because it has male players.
Krishna ji questions Coach Khan’s methods by claiming that women can’t be like boys with respect to their inherent strength. That’s when Khan replies that he is not looking to turn women into men. He is simply looking to turn the women into a team.
8. When it gave us a glorious example of women, together, giving it back to eve-teasers.
While violence is not my first choice, I’d be lying if I, and every woman I know, did not cheer at the thought of giving it back to eve-teasers and harassers, as shown in the film. More importantly, this was also a moment that showcased how women stand up for women!
9. When it proved that patriarchy and toxic masculinity is, sadly, not limited to strangers.
Preeti’s boyfriend constantly undermines her choices, career, and her game. In fact, he even sets a date for their wedding, without consulting her.
Of course, the befitting reply she gives, through the goals she strikes, is being a boss woman 101!
10. When it showed how women always, always have to fight harder for a seat at the table. And they still win!
Even though the women’s team has as much right as the men’s team to compete at the world cup, the sports authorities take back their offer. Until Coach Khan convinces them to play a friendly match and let the result decide the fate of the team.
Yes, it’s a film and things may not be the same in real life but the message was on-point. And even better was the sarcastic response that Khan served the member of the hockey association.
And the cherry on the cake was that the women’s team played well enough to earn their opponent’s respect, and score a ride to the World Cup, despite losing the match.
11. Of course, the iconic 70-minute speech is unforgettable. It still gives you goosebumps. And is easily one of the most inspiring cinematic monologues to have come out of Bollywood.
12. And last, but not least, when it showcased a heartwarming, albeit dramatic, example of female friendship. Because what’s Bollywood without some good, old-fashioned drama.
Despite competing for maximum goals throughout the series, Komal lets Preeti take the final goal in the match because she recognizes what it means to Preeti. And Preeti returns the favour by letting Komal strike the penalty. Is that female friendship? I think so!
What better time than now to rewatch the film!
All images are screenshots from the film on Prime Video unless specified otherwise.