The recently released Bollywood movie ‘Udta Punjab’ has something special for hockey lovers. The movie which focuses on the drug abuse problem in the Indian Punjab has hockey as a major influence with actor Alia Bhatt playing the role of a hockey player.
Alia trained in hockey for a month and a half in Mumbai before she began shooting for the film in Punjab. “I was given a coach and we trained at a place in Bandra. I would reach at around 6 am every morning. The idea was to get the postures right, learn to hold the stick right and to control the ball,” she said in an interview.
“Hockey is a very difficult sport but I had to push myself because I wanted to be comfortable with the hockey stick, and project the certain ease in the body language of hockey players. I also wanted to bring a degree of strength and force to my character.”
The film stars Shahid Kapoor essaying the character of a high-on-drugs rockstar. Kareena Kapoor plays a doctor determined to fight the illegal transportation of drugs. Alia plays the part of a Bihari girl who has gained prominence at the local hockey scene but is forced to give up her dream to work the fields in a village in Punjab to support her family.
Interestingly, the film’s release coincides with the time when Indian hockey is on the rise. The men’s team recently finished second at the 36th Champions Trophy, their best-ever position.
The women’s team qualified for this year’s Olympics. It will be Indian hockey eves’ first-ever appearance at the quadrennial stage since 1980 when women hockey made its debut at the Olympics.
In 2007, a Bollywood movie entirely based on women’s hockey made waves not only in India but also in the wider hockey world. ‘Chak de India’ starring Shahrukh Khan was a huge success.
It is widely believed that the background of the movie was an actual Asian final involving India, a quarter of a century back. In 1982 Asian games final, India lost to arch-rivals Pakistan 1-7. To compound the misery, it was in the capital city of New Delhi with the nation following on TV. Goalkeeper Negi was made the scapegoat. Negi was humiliated by press and public in no uncertain terms. After some years, Negi took to coaching. He became a national hero when the Indian women team unexpectedly won the gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth games with Negi as the assistant coach. The theme of ‘Chak de India’ was also that of a perceived villain turned hero. Indian captain Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan) misses a vital penalty stroke in the final against Pakistan which meant defeat. He endures the same trauma as Negi.
He is appointed the coach of the Indian national women team which the federation was initially reluctant to send to the World Cup. The team was completely ridden with factionalism. Shahrukh blends the side into a cohesive unit which ultimately lifts the World Cup.
In a country where Bollywood is “The Passion”, the success of the movie had a profound effect in raising popularity of the game. A simple gauge for measurement: 20 percent increase in manufacturing of hockey kits in sports industry of India. But the movie’s influence went even beyond that. Corporate groups, banks and even police had special shows/group bookings for their workforce as a lesson in discipline, dedication, motivation and team spirit.
Els van Breda Vriesman, the then FIH President, also enjoyed the film, which she understood with Dutch sub-titles, and could recollect every dialogue. The ‘Chak De’ cry became the tagline for every sport in which India competes.
The country’s national sport stands no comparison with cricket which has been completely overshadowing hockey for more than 30 years. Moreover, Indian hockey has failed to win any medal in Olympics or the World Cup since the gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when they benefited from boycott of all major hockey nations that was against the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile Soviet Union.
There was a time when hockey was the most followed sport in the world’s second-most populous country. Hockey gave India a medal at every Olympics till 1972, including eight golds — more than any other nation. Their only other gold came in 2008 via shooting. In 1975, India won the World Cup for the first and last time.
All this meant that hockey often found prominence in Bollywood flicks. This scribe can recall quite a few.
In the 1971 movie ‘Guddi’, Dharmendra plays the role of a movie star. While shooting for a film, he is visited by some girls. When told that they skipped school just to see him, Dharmendra says, “During my school days, we used to miss classes to watch hockey matches.”
In Raj Kapoor’s epic, ‘Mera Naam Joker’ it was a hockey match in school where teenaged Rishi Kapoor’s admiration for his teacher Simi Grewal transforms into love.
Raj Kapoor was a great fan of Indian hockey. When the Indian team returned home with the 1975 World Cup, he arranged a big reception at his farm house.
Hockey stars enjoyed celebrity status and big names of Bollywood took pride in socialising with them.
When India won the World Cup in 1975, hockey was at the peak of its glory. An exhibition match was played in Mumbai between film stars and the Indian World Cup-winning side. The film stars included Raj Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Simple Kapadia, Jeetendra and Rishi Kapoor.
A crowd of almost 40,000 turned up to watch the match. The whole atmosphere of the playground was charged with the romance of hockey.
Dyhan Chand is widely acknowledged as the greatest hockey player of all time. He was India’s star performer in their first three Olympic victories — 1928, 1932 and 1936. National Sports Day in India is celebrated onAugust 29, the birthday of Dhyan Chand. Reportedly, two production houses, including Yash Raj Films, are working on a film on Dhyan Chand.
Hockey India League (HIL) is the most lucrative in the world. One of the teams, Delhi Waveriders, is co-owned by Bollywood hero John Abraham.
Many believe if the Indian hockey team manages to win a medal at Rio there will be a number of hockey-themed movies.