Chak De India is a paint-by-numbers sports movie, dozens have come out of Hollywood by now.
The formula puts tremendous obstacles in the path of a bunch of underdogs, they overcome all, silence the naysayers and win.
Shimit Amin (inspired by Miracle and other similar films) takes a bit of a chance by making a film about hockey in a country that cares only about cricket - a point he makes here too. Then, it's women's hockey, which nobody cares about, not even the authorities who should. Into this he stirs in the masala of national integration and patriotism and it's an almost potent mix - but for the predictability at every step. (Just one exception - the girls' match with the men's hockey team.) Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), former hockey team captain, hounded out as a "traitor" with accusations of throwing a match to Pakistan, returns seven years later and wants to coach a team of ‘losers' to regain his honour. He is given the job since nobody else wants it.
The 16 girls come in from various parts of the country, face prejudice and ignorance - two girls from the North East object to being called guests in their own country. Jharkhand? You come from the jungle? Asks the hefty, loud-mouthed stereotyped Punjabi girl of two tribal girls. The casting of the girls is terrific - they are not professional actors, so they look raw - like they could be moulded into a winning team by a persistent coach like Kabir Khan.
There are the usual problems - bick ering among the girls, rebellion at Kabir's harsh training methods, his patriotic pep talks and finally unity among the girls and their triumph at the world cup.
Since the graph of the plot was predetermined, maybe Amin (and his writer Jaideep Sahni, who has come up with some excellent lines) should have paid some more attention to the girls' backstories and the interactions between them. The untold stories hint at a lot of fire and passion that could have spilled into the film. However, some of the characters have turned out well - like the little Haryanvi spitfire Komal (Chitrashi Rawat), the senior player (Shilpa Shukla) jealous of the captain (Vidya Malavade) and the pretty ‘mem' (Sagarika Ghatge) whose cricketer fiancé keeps running down her achievements. The actress who plays the assistant coach is remarkably effective in her own low-key manner.