Revisiting and Re-reading Chak De India

October 30, 2020 at 9:15 PMOct (Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A couple of months ago I decided to revisit the film Chak De India written by Jaideep Sahni and directed by Shimit Amin. I hadn’t revisited the film after having watched it in the theaters during the first week of its release.

Back in 2007 when the film had hit the silver screen, I remember having been mightily impressed by the film. The love for the film came naturally because of my love for Shahrukh Khan and also because the film’s story-line had an underdog team finally achieve success, a man who was wronged finally earn back his dignity by disproving the allegations made on him earlier, the underestimated gender disproving the stereotyped notions/ biases against them- which are all a subversion, and also a kind of poetic justice. Of course, the thrills and joys of team building, the idea of team and its extension- the idea of a nation, and the victory of that collective along with the pride that accompanies the victory, also played a role in making the film appeal to me back then. Like almost all sports films and films with an undercurrent of patriotism, Chak De India also caused an adrenaline rush which added to the thrill and also making the film click.

Thirteen years after its release, when I revisited Chak De India, I was again mighty impressed. But this time I was drawn to a very different aspect of the film; something I had not noticed earlier, something that had not occurred to me earlier. Though I do not want to certify myself by saying my observation is marked by novelty, I must confess that in all these years I haven’t heard anyone speak of it. Hence, I am attempting to document my thoughts here now in this post.

Chak De India, I realized during my revisiting, is a very mature film which heart in heart is about building individuals, and not about building a team or a collective. The film, I have come to believe now, is about building individuals and the importance of building individuals in order to build a collective.

A collective or rather any collective, the film says, is a failure or is bound to fail if the individuals who are a part of it are failing in their individual spaces. Only an individual who has built the inner muscles can shoulder and also make healthy contributions to the formation of a collective and sustaining it. Interestingly, the film also points out that this building of individuals can happen only in a collective.

In Chak De India, a team, a collective is formed and victory achieved not by making the members of the team want to disprove the bias against their gender or is their energy being extracted for the idea of a collective pride (nationalism or patriotism). Though these forces are pushing them to an extent, it is finally the building of each individual which makes possible the formation of a team, a collective which triumphs!  If the team in Chak De India were to be formed in the name of patriotism or formed to dismantle the bias of the Academy, the team might have come together or rather could have been brought together but that wouldnt have been enough to form a healthy collective. It is the maturation of each individual, in their individual orbits and in the collective, which enabled the collective to succeed. 

The skepticism of modern individuals is that of the community /collective identity eclipsing, or rather erasing, their individual identity and turning them into foot-soldiers of the community/ collective and chaining them to unfreedom. This skepticism usually results in a highly individualized self who subscribes to a privatized fate. An individual who subscribes to a privatized self and fate usually misses the sense of security and safety that a community/ collective promises, assures, and also provides. Also, the sense of unsafety and insecurity gets amplified because the individualistic individuals tend to forget the requirement and significance of being there for each other and being responsible for each other, a phenomenon that not just makes every individual operate on a survival mode, turns individuals against each other but also turns every individual very lonely and helpless too. But at the same time, the community/ collective in its demand for loyalty expects surrender and submission from individuals and also an erosion of individuality from its members, which results in a crisis of identity. That exactly is what a modern individual’s fear is!

The polyphony turns into a cacophony when it moves in either the direction of individualistic individuals with privatized fate or in the direction of a community construction which erodes the individuality of its members. A right-based individualistic society and a duty-based communitarian society both cause an unhealthy atmosphere where either a bunch of narcissistic individuals mushroom or a collective narcissism emerges. In either case, the individuals defeat the collective and/ or the collective defeats the individual.

Between these two possibilities exists a possibility of mutual-responsibility where every individual considers oneself responsible for each other, and also responsible for the collective and the collective takes up the responsibility for each individual. To use the phrase which was once a cliche but now has become outdated and also forgotten: each for all and all for each. This is what the film Chak De India is about, it appeared to me during this revisit.

Chak De India, with its extremely profound vision and maturity, escapes from the possibility of turning itself into a success story of an(y) individual’s privatized fate or slipping into a nationalistic or jingoistic trap while upholding the idea of collective.

The vision, the worldview of Chak De India says: It is only in the individual victory that a collective victory is made possible and it is in the collective victory that each individual’s liberation can be achieved.  The growth of the team, the collective in Chak De India relies on the growth of its individuals, and the growth of individuals relies on their ability to retain their identity yet identify with the collective and participate in the collective by taking up responsibility for each other. When such individuals get formed, the polyphony becomes not cacophony but a harmony, and a collective gets formed which doesn’t feel the need to demand loyalty from its members but has the commitment of its members.

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