Chak De! & Hockey’s Sattar Minute of Fame

Pop Culture

Chak De! & Hockey’s Sattar Minute of Fame

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

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ash uncle’s Chak De! India was an exemplary film on many accounts. It was the last one before Shah Rukh Khan gave up real acting and set off on a spiritual cinematic journey to find himself, with a variety of different roles. These include Homey Boy Saves Girl in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), Super Boy Saves Family in Ra.One (2011), Older Boy Saves Younger Girl in Dear Zindagi (2016), and Confused Boy Saves Himself in Fan (2016). Until, at last, Boy is Saved by Girl in Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017). But before SRK went into himself and never came back, he gave us Chak De! India.

Chak De! India’s exhilaration came to us in many moments and most of them involved dropping shade on cricket. There was the “Preeti, dikha de uss launde ko” exchange between Preeti Sabharwal and Komal Chautala, and the public dumping of Yuvraj-lite vice captain (basically, a synecdoche for the Indian cricket team). But for me, the most heart-bursting moment was watching King Khan chomping down on a Chicken McGrill right before he broke open a dude’s jaw with the biting, “Humaari hockey mein chhake nahi hote.”

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In that moment, Shah Rukh Khan was infinite.

I remember chucking my cricket bat out of the window the very next moment, taking my shirt off, and running to the sports store to buy a hockey stick and taking selfies with it. If God was reading Twitter that day, he’d have hearted every cricket meme, unfollowed Sehwag, and slid into the DMs of every sports manufacturer in Ludhiana with the message: Give me a hockey stick, or give me death.

Hockey had finally entered cultural exceptionalism. Actors from the film, like Vidya Malvade, Sagarika Ghatge, and Shilpa Shukla were serenading news channels, from Barkha to Arnab to Aaj Tak, taking the sport and its weapon to a wider audience. Knowing Indian hockey players became the new “knowing a Linkin Park song other than ‘In The End’ or ‘Numb’”. And the hockey stick, always the unsexy instrument that lacked the blunt force of a cricket bat or the aerodynamic unpredictability of a football, had finally found its champion.

The hockey stick, with its curvy, slippery rise and fall, came to be the definitive representative art of the spring of 2007.

It was the April of 2007, and half a world away, a new but similar, cultural phenomenon was exploding worldwide: Kim Kardashian was changing the parameters of beauty. Lower curves were suddenly acceptable to the fashion industry and that was seeping into popular culture.

The first beneficiary was the hockey stick: With its oddly shaped kink slide near the bottom, it was capturing every young girl and boy’s imagination. The girls wanted to be hockey sticks, and the boys wanted to be with hockey sticks. And the bat? The bat was suddenly irrelevant, a relic of a flat, size-zero past, just like the other seminal event in our lives growing up… no, not Kargil, but Kareena and Shahid’s breakup, which happened a month before the release of Chak De! India.

The hockey stick, with its curvy, slippery rise and fall, came to be the definitive representative art of the spring of 2007. Personally, I distinctly remember sitting in my school playground, watching the raindrops fall, and picking up a hockey stick to impress girls. I was mostly horseshit, falling on my knees every time and eating a lot of damp soil, but hope springs eternal and India was feeling maternal, so why not?

If there was ever a moment for the hockey stick to be enshrined in our sporting history as the nation’s preferred piece of wood, this was it. This was the moment when the sport could reclaim respect and millions of dollars in sponsored segments with names like “D’Cold Dribble” or “Kit-Kat Kamaal Goal”. This was the moment when Katrina Kaif could seduce a hockey stick the way she once seduced a mango.

And then, it passed.

Chak De! India

Chak De! India’s exhilaration came to us in many moments and most of them involved dropping shade on cricket. There was the “Preeti, dikha de uss launde ko” exchange between Preeti Sabharwal and Komal Chautala, and the public dumping of Yuvraj-lite vice captain (basically, a synecdoche for the Indian cricket team).

Image / YRF

Just over a month after Chak De! India, we fell in love again, this time with a dude with a weird name: Dhoni. We won the first T20 world cup without Tendulkar, Ganguly, or Dravid, beating Pakistan in the final. If there is one thing Indians love more than loving themselves, it’s hating Pakistan, and the long-locked MSD made it possible. Out went the hockey stick, in came Dhoni, who brought cricket and all the sexy back. And to rub it all in, Chak De!’s favourite girl Preeti Sabharwal aka Sagarika Ghatge had to go and marry a cricketer IRL, and that too a bowler.

The hockey stick then dejectedly went back into the same dark corner it had come from, forcefully Icarus’d in the face of winter and the upcoming IPL. It had had its brief sattar minute in the spring, but its song was sung.

Today, 10 years after Chak De! India, it’s still there below the bed in my room, cobwebbed and waiting to be picked up by eager hands and made the object of selfies again, but that is not to be. SRK moved on to Europe to find himself and Sejal’s ring and the curvy icon is now all but forgotten.

But I am hopeful. We may never have another Chak De! – not on screen, not in real life. But one day, hockey might have its own Virat-Anushka moment and be catapulted back into national headlines. That’s all it will take for us to care again.

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