No chiffon love songs shot in Switzerland, no blazing battles on the mean streets, not even a Rakhi Sawant item number — Chak De! India isn't regular Bollywood at all.
What it offers is a bunch of feisty women hockey players who sulk, rebel and bitch. And who, when shaken and stirred by a coach in search of redemption, dodge and dribble their way to World Cup glory. It’s what they call a sports flick, Bollywood's latest flavour.
In 2007, a clutch of such movies has already hit the silver screen. If Chak De! India is about hockey, Apne deals with boxing and Tara Rum Pum is about the life of a racing car driver. Interestingly, the movies that have collapsed — Hat-Trick, Chain Kuli Ki Main Kuli and Say Salaam India — are all strung around cricket, a national passion.
There's more sporting action coming up later this year, from football ( Goal, Cycle Kick ) and athletics ( Marathon ) to kick-boxing ( Lahore ) and cricket ( Shoonya, Meerabai Not Out ). Bollywood is playing ball like never before. "Sports is an under-exploited genre. And as recent releases show it has plenty of potential," says film distributor Sanjay Mehta.
It wasn't always like this. In traditional Bollywood, sports was either a silly joke or a sideshow. You could play badminton and croon at the same time — as Jeetendra and Leena Chandravarkar did with rhythmic fluency in Humjoli (1970). Or you could kick football and sing with your elephant friends as Rajesh Khanna did in Haathi Mere Saathi (1971). Examples abound. As a cricketer in Love Marriage (1959), Dev Anand's only contribution is getting bowled over by Mala Sinha. The movie's zany track, She ne khela he se aaj cricket match , is more loveplay than play. In 1981, Rishi Kapoor and Kim play Kabaddi in Naseeb , their waxed legs on full display.
Then, there were movies like Feroz Khan's Apradh , which started off with a Formula One race, Mithun Chakraborty's Boxer (uninspired by Sylvester Stallone's Rocky ), Dharmendra's boxing flick, Main Intequam Loonga and Kumar Gaurav's All-Rounder (where our white-flannelled hero looks prettier than Rati Agnihotri). Many in the audience had a good laugh watching Dev Anand play BCCI president in Aamir Khan's Awwal Number . There were some watchable movies too (see box on left), but hardly enough to trouble a nursery student's counting skills.
The plot has changed quite dramatically in recent times. Experts ascribe it to the economic boom that has given rise to a new breed of viewers: cash-rich, young, adventurous.
There is a demand for different things and an eagerness to embrace the unusual, whether it's a blockbuster like Lagaan (2001), a small-budget sports movie like Iqbal (2005) or an offbeat comedy like Bheja Fry (2007). As Siddharth Roy Kapur of UTV says, "The audience is looking for stories with novelty, either in the idea or in its treatment. Subjects not touched earlier are being made into films today." Sport is just one topic in this search for the innovative.
There is also a premium on a film's newsworthiness now. Hat-Trick , Say Salaam India , Meerabai Not Out were all produced to coincide with the 2007 one-day World Cup. Meerabai’s release was deferred following India's early exit. Now with the Test series win against England, cricket is back in favour. Says director Chandrakant Kulkarni, "Perhaps the film would be released to coincide with the Twenty20 World Cup in September."