I loved this movie so much.
I don't watch many sports movies, so the next comment is somewhat uninformed, but: I don't recall any other sports story having such a balanced, respectful approach to the question of how to encourage individuals to coalesce into a real team. I really appreciated the emphasis that the movie, via Khan, put on improving and relating to the larger communities to which the players belonged: each girl was a part of the team, but she was also part of womankind and India-kind. Each girl had something to give to - and receive from - each of these different overlapping and sometimes conflicting groups to which she belongs. (For a few of the characters, we saw even more bits of life to consider - family, boyfriend, and, in the case of Khan, the past. Of course most of us juggle all these pieces and more in our day-to-day lives, but I understand all of that couldn't fit in the movie.) Everyone had something to learn, and she did. Everyone had something to contribute, and she did. The movie did all this without obliterating the individual - no one was torn down in order that others might rise.
Another strength, I think, is that it nailed each cliché it indulged in.* It's a good thing, too, because if you're going to be unoriginal with your overall plot and character types, then you really need to play the old chestnuts in a relevant, meaningful, entertaining, and/or unique way - and Chak De India hit every one out of the park (pardon the metaphor mishmash). It was also surprisingly light on cheese (although maybe it's weaker on that front if you are more familiar with the regional stereotypes and how they tend to get treated in fiction than I am), with a lot of heart but very little melodrama. On that point, let me share that at intermission I sent Totally Basmatic a text message to say that Shahrukh was awesome (I believe I used all caps) and that sometimes I forget how much I like him and how effective he can be and am always delighted to be re-reminded. His and everyone else's performances were perfectly balanced, as was the whole movie: familiar but not redundant, engaging but not toying, inspiring but not preachy, indulgent but not lazy, sweet but not saccharine.
I wonder if the buoyancy of the excitement and communal good will of seeing this in the theater may lose its momentum when the movie is watched on the small screen. I hope not. I hope this movie will be beloved for years. It's an incredibly satisfying film; I don't know whom exactly to credit for that, so my hat is off to everyone involved. It's as though they, like the girls, knew they had a chance to do a good thing, and they made the very most of the opportunity. "Chak de" indeed!
Aside to people who play field hockey: what did it mean when the Indian men's team held out their sticks to the women's team and then they reciprocated? Respect? Truce? Bravo?
* It also avoided some I wouldn't have been surprised to see, like a badly-timed outburst from Khan when shaken by his ghosts, extended racist or other snotty remarks from the other teams, whispers of foul play, or someone overcoming a physical injury or a tragedy that befell them during the tournament. Wise choices, I'd say, as none of these would have particularly benefited the overall arc of "personal growth within larger communities" of the players and coach. There was one stereotype I was actually disappointed not to get, though: that arsehole hockey commissioner getting his comeuppance. Maybe credit for that is owed to shrewd writing: it was as though he was so uninterested in the women's team that having him around during the big matches, even by telephone, would have been inconsistent. At least we got our slow clap, though. I luuurve a good slow clap, and it was all I could do not to start one of my own at the end.