I should probably mention at the outset that I’m really not that into sports movies in general terms (I think prior to this film the only sports movie I’ve seen that I would watch again was Cool Runnings, take from that what you will) but given my fondness for underdogs in actual sporting events its probably not a surprise that this film ended up hitting a lot of my kinks. I played field hockey in PE at school and my main memories of that involve red blaze everywhere, horrible weather and being cross a lot, so the fact that this film made the sport look really fun is probably the best recommendation I can give it.
The film is two and a half hours long, it needs to be to deal with all the issues it does, and really I barely noticed. (I was amused to note that it had an intermission title, which I’ve seen a few times in the cinema but never in the DVD version.) It was really interesting to see such an ethnically diverse India portrayed on screen, different cultures and languages and the tensions between different groups and regions playing out on the hockey field.
So yes, the story is mainly about Kabir’s disgrace and quest for redemption, but really the journey he takes with the girls, binding them all together as a team, taking them seriously, teaching them to take themselves seriously, and helping make everyone else take them seriously, that was the story for me. It’s a story of hundreds of little battles that build towards the one on the pitch and all the little battles are just as heart warming as the big one. I am full of love and glee about this film, especially all the team building stuff with injuries and kicking ass on and off the field.
On a related note, the message about nationalism/patriotism that the film is sending out is a little bit, contradictory. A large chunk of the film is devoted to Kabir trying to teach the girls to think of themselves as Indians rather than by their regional identities, to put aside those differences in language, cultural and ethnicity and focus instead on their commonalities. Yet, the whole reason that Kabir ends up being their coach is because he has been disgraced – and branded a traitor by a vengeful press – after being wrongly accused of throwing a hockey game (on the basis that he shook the opposing team captain’s hand at the end, which only really says he was a good sportsman and not a sore loser). He wants, more than anything, to prove how much he loves his country, in spite of how the people have treated him. Interestingly, towards the end of the film his contribution towards resolving Preeti and Komal’s long running antagonism is to remind them of the darker side of having a nation’s hopes pinned on them, reminding them that the same force that bound them together as a team could tear them apart if they mess up.
I did find the lack of conventional romance refreshing, Vidya is already married and Preeti has a somewhat fraught relationship with her boyfriend but these are side issues to their characters, part of their motivation but not all that they are. Also no one falls in love with the coach! (Despite Bindia’s implications, Kabir and Vidya show no indication of wanting anything other than a little mutual personal support on top of their good working relationship)