Writer Jaideep Sahni remembers the newspaper article that gave birth to Chak De! India — a small piece about the victory of Indian women’s hockey team in 2002 Commonwealth Games that he found buried in the back
pages. Sahni, who has also written stories like Khosla Ka Ghosla and Bunty Aur Babli, says he felt angry. In an interview with PTI, Sahni says, “It seemed strange to me that the article was not on the front page. Women athletes are not the first people when we think about national heroes.”
“I realised that their competition was not the team of some other country but the disinterest of their own people and country. It motivated us to do something and try and change it in a little way.” Sahni succeeded in his mission gloriously with the sports drama, which had a bunch of first-time actors and a superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, otherwise known for his romantic hero persona.
A lot has changed in the decade since Chak De! India released on August 10, 2007. The country has found new female sports icons in boxer Mary Kom, badminton player PV Sindhu, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, wrestler Sakshi Malik and Indian women’s cricket team led by Mithali Raj, which did exceptionally well in the World Cup. Sahni, however, believes there is a lot that still needs to be done.
“If we think we want to be a great global power while the potential of half of our population remains underutilised, we are fooling ourselves. It is simply not possible and it is also unfair. The journey has begun but there is a long way to go.” The Shimit Amin-directed film gave Sahni an opportunity to talk about the issues that had always bothered him.
“There were 20 characters speaking in about 12 dialects, then they had individual journeys besides their struggle as athletes. The other bunch of things were related to topics like regionalism, ethnicity, religion and patriotism. These are the things that bother you all the time but you are not able to do much.
“I realised that I had a chance to discuss this with our people. There was a possibility of it all coming together like a mathematical equation or falling apart. We just got lucky, I think.” The film, at its centre had a coach, Kabir Khan, on a redemptive journey after being called a traitor following the team’s loss in a match against Pakistan.
Chak De India! showed remarkable restrain in depicting patriotism and Sahni credits director Amin and Shah Rukh for presenting it beautifully on screen. “Asking our own brothers or sisters to constantly prove their loyalty to the country is cruel, inhuman and foolish. Using national symbols to bully other people is opposite of patriotism.
“Patriotism does not mean ignoring our own shortcomings and just going on praising ourselves. It is about seeing the shortcomings and rising above it. Patriotism does not mean criticising people who are different from us or the countries which are different from us,” Sahni says.