New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) In a country that eats, drinks and sleeps cricket, a movie on hockey certainly bucks the trend. But when Shah Rukh Khan waves the magic stick saying 'Chak De! India', the audience stands up and applauds.
Sans glamour, romance and even a leading lady, King Khan plays the Indian women's hockey team coach who boosts the spirit of the girls, trains them and leads them to success - all the while rousing passions for the much maligned national game.
Ajit Pal Singh, former captain of the Indian hockey team and an Olympian, believes movies like 'Chak De! India' have the potential to give a new lease of life to hockey in India.
'I am sure that more movies like 'Chak De' can attract more youngsters to hockey. When I was young, cricket and hockey had an equal following but today cricket has clearly surpassed hockey,' Singh told IANS.
Singh, however, believes the interest kindled in the game can be maintained only with the help of institutional support. 'The place where players are made and passions are lit is school. In fact, there are many schools that have good hockey teams but they never stick together to play on at a later stage.
'The government should step in and encourage schools to maintain their hockey teams. Also the conception that hockey is not as glamorous, doesn't attract sponsors and doesn't offer as much money as cricket, should be removed. Only then will more youngsters take this game more seriously,' Singh said.
'It is the number one sport. Unfortunately it has lost its popularity in India. But hopefully such a medium can bring back the glory of the game.' Adam Wallish, a member of the Australian Hockey Board, said the film had the potential to revive interest in the game.
'The film will give a much-needed boost to Indian hockey, given the fact that it is going through one of its darkest phases,' Wallish said. Despite being the national game, the Indian government had demoted hockey from the 'priority' to the 'general' category of sports because of the continuous poor showing of the national team in all major tournaments in recent years.
However, the successes at the 16th Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Malaysia in May and at last month's Champions Challenge Cup in the Netherlands, where India won the bronze, were a ray of hope for hockey lovers.
After watching the movie, most people are sure that it will definitely attract more young people to the game.
Ananya Mukherjee who had gone to watch the film with her husband can't help praising it to the skies.
'It was a wonderful movie and I can probably watch it 10 times more! This is, frankly, one of Shah Rukh's best performances and via him, I am sure hockey will regain its lost glory and encourage youngsters to take it up,' she said.
Aneeta Mehta, a public relations executive, said: 'Shah Rukh is good, there's no doubt about it. But the rest of the team - the girls - were superb too. Hailing from different states, they portrayed the typical challenges a team faces in building the team spirit.'
Close on the heels of 'Chak de! India' is coming up another sports movie, 'Goal'. A John Abraham and Arshad Warsi starrer, this movie plays around the central theme of football.
Some other Indian movies based on sports that have done very well are 'Lagaan', 'Iqbal' and 'Awwal Number', 'Hip Hip Hurray' and 'Saheb'.