FLASHBACK 2007 - The religion factor in 'Chak De! India'

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The magic recipe that helped “Chak De! India” score at the Bollywood box-office comprised women’s hockey, a dash of patriotism -- and its Muslim protagonist.

People stand in front of a movie poster of "Chak De! India" outside a movie hall in Mumbai in this August 14, 2007 file photo. The magic recipe that helped "Chak De! India" score at the Bollywood box-office comprised women's hockey, a dash of patriotism -- and its Muslim protagonist. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Director Shimit Amin says the film appealed to audiences because it depicted a Muslim hockey player being ridiculed and branded a traitor only because of his religion.

“The religion bias gave the necessary dramatic twist to the plot,” says Amin. “People … could relate to it because you have so many instances of people ridiculed and harassed because they belong to a particular race or religion.”

In the film, Shah Rukh Khan plays the Muslim captain of the Indian men’s team who misses a do-or-die penalty shootout against arch rival Pakistan in the final of a world championship, triggering charges of match-fixing and leading to his ouster.

But he returns seven years later as the coach of a ragtag women’s national team and guides them to victory at a world championship.

Amin said that the religion factor gave the film a “sense of reality and enhanced the appeal and sensitiveness of the script”.

“Kabir (Khan) is relatable and so when he redeems himself, the audiences also feel his emotions, his relief from being (called) a traitor to his country.”

To make “Chak De! India” even more believable, the director did away with song-and-dance routines and took the rare step of not having a conventional heroine in the film.

“It was all for the sake of making the script look real,” says Amin. “You don’t expect a disgraced player struggling to earn his respect to sing and dance when he is in a disturbed state of mind.”

Not that there were no women in “Chak De! India”. There were 16 of them, with little or no experience of acting, essaying the roles of hockey players from different states.

But the film doesn’t explore the possibility of a relationship between one of the players and their coach.

“Kabir Khan’s only love is hockey and so having a heroine was also not required.”