Much after the world and their uncle has seen Chak de India and moved on to the Next Big Thing, I finally saw the movie. And my God, what a film!
Bschools are planning case studies. And of course it is a lesson in team building and all that jazz. But to me, the defining moment of the Chak De was when Preeti Sabharwal asks boyfriend Abhimanyu Singh,"Aur mera career?"
And Singh, Vice Captain of the Indian cricket team replies,"Kahan cricket aur kahan tumhara yeh gilli danda.."
Which sums up the overall Indian attitude to women pursuing careers. Shaadi ke pehle, zaroor. Zaroor, beti, you must get an education. You can work, no problem.
Shaadi ke baad? Well, jo aapke sasural wale chahein. And as Vidya Sharma puts it so beautifully in the film,"Ab parivaar wale bahu chahte hain."
No doubt many of these women do work. But not to full capacity or potential. "Your husband's career comes first..." "Women, you know, must make sacrifices..." "Family comes first..." blah blah blah.
And yes, there are women who willingly choose a supportive and nurturing role but there are many many others who downsize their ambitions, clip their wings, bury their dreams.
Whether it's a Preeti - a modern young woman who has chosen her own partner (on the surface, a modern, metrosexual kind of man). Or a Vidya, who seems to have married into a more traditional family but was assured playing hockey 'would not be a problem'.
But it is a problem when she refuses to leave the camp to attend a wedding... after all 'log kya kahenge'?
To be recognised as an individual - not a daughter, wife or mother - is the secret desire of every young woman in India. And that's what Chak De captures so beautifully, without being a 'feminist' film.
Chak De captures the new face of feminism which is to wow the world with your achievements. Earn respect - don't beg or whine for it. And make a statement but have fun even as you're doing it.
This is such a huge change in attitude from the films with feminist themes in an earlier era. The kind which featured Deepti Naval, Shabana Azmi and other arthouse actresses. Oppressed, suppressed, depressed - until they one day walk out into the sunset and the audience walks out in relief.
Cut to Chak De. There's energy, there's hope. There's the idea that you can have your cake and eat it. If you're smart, and keep your head.
Take the match between the men's team and the women's team. Although technically, the Chak De team lost the battle, they actually won the war by earning the respect of the opponent. The chakle-belan waali team proved it meant business.
It's much the same in a regular career. Whether in medicine or management women still have to prove they are ready for the 'World Cup' - the higher level at which the game is played.
Secondly, women are often their own worst enemies. The back biting and ego issues in Chak De are oh-so-real. Ultimately the team won only when Komal and Preeti decided to co-operate. And Bindiya swallowed her pride to play as one with the team, giving them the benefit of her experience.
So in the real world, women need to make friends and allies to get ahead. You can't do it alone. By putting aside their egos both Komal and Preeti scored a goal each in the final. And both goals were crucial to the win.
Lastly, you don't have to become 'one of the boys'. I think the Australian team was deliberately given this athletic look (even in evening dress they all looked so manly!). In sharp contrast the Indian team was tough on field but also soft and feminine in saris.
The point being that yes, you can choose to become like a man to succeed in a man's world. Or you can balance the yin and the yang and yet get the job done just as well.
Like any sports film, Chak De is a cracking Underdog-wins-the-day, Unity-is-Strength kind of story. But writer Jaideep Sahni makes it something more than that as well. As with Bunty aur Babli, which captured the bubbles of aspiration across small town India, Chak De is a reflection of a prevailing undercurrent.
The hopes, dreams and ambitions of millions of our young women.
Of course there are other, important subtexts. Such as India taking on the firangs and beating them on their own turf. ("Pehli baar ek gore ko tiranga lehraata hua dekh raha hoon" is a bit of a cheesy dialogue but at a symbolic level it works).
The pain of a Muslim whose allegiance to India is in doubt because of a loss on the sports field. "Uske jaise to partition ke time hi Pakistan chale jaate to accha hota" is a telling piece of dialogue...
And of course the pure patriotic angle. Who or what is really 'Indian'? After 60 years of Independence many think all south Indians are the same. And anyone with Chinese features surely can't be a fellow citizen!
Jana Gana mana may not recognise a Jharkhand or a Mizoram but Chak De India does. Making it an updated anthem of an upbeat India.