There, initially, appeared to be a dichotomy -- rather, a little confusion -- in the casting of the 2007 movie 'Chak De India' when Shah Rukh Khan was signed on board. SRK had then carved a niche for himself that could not and would not be touched by his successors any time soon. But he was all about romance -- spreading of the arms, a dimpled smile and embracing every single thing a true-blue romantic-at-heart expects from her paramour.
'Chak De India' needed him to play a fallen hero -- branded a traitor, who was seeking redemption. The emotion had to be raw. And in abundance. There had to be disappointment, and frustration and a kind of relief if and when his team wins. The team in question was a bunch of aimless women trying to outdo each other rather than standing together as a team. Not only did SRK's Kabir have to bring them together and make them fall (literally and figuratively) for one another, he also had to make them score a victory.
In hindsight, one can safely say this was a risky film -- even as it had to be driven by SRK's star power. The hero's love interest was his country -- and he had to prove his loyalty towards it. The film did give an insight into the personal lives of the characters, but when it came to Kabir, his sole aim was his redemption. That's not how Bollywood functioned 12 years ago -- that's not how it functions even today. 'Chak De India' was an exemption. 'Chak De India's Shah Rukh Khan, more so.
What Shimit Amin, the director, Jaideep Sahni, the scriptwriter, and Aditya Chopra, the producer, envisioned SRK could do with Kabir, nobody else did. As much as Chak De India was about the bunch of girls who made the characters assigned to them their own, it reeked of SRK's genius in portraying the restraint of Kabir Khan.
There is a separate, and a very large, fan following of the climax of the movie -- where the Hockey team struggles its way to victory and glory.
SRK's tears in the scene showcase the rarity in Bollywood -- a certain restraint despite being so overwhelmed.
Even in the introductory scene, when SRK's Kabir loses to Pakistan, his breakdown isn't as over-theatrical as that of 'Kal Ho Na Ho's climax. It's controlled -- to an extent of confusing the media and leading them to wonder if he was disappointed at all.
A more determined Kabir makes way to the bylanes of Indian Hockey seven years later, and goes through an entire rigmarole to take the team to the point of victory.
There is this 'Sattar Minute' monologue too, which is the viewer's favourite in most cases.
But what SRK does after the team wins the coveted trophy is unreal. There are no tears, no outward expression of joy -- there is just a deep sigh of relief. And pride.
In the stretch of 24 seconds, SRK brings to the screen what redemption actually looks like. The first few seconds are of disbelief. He looks here and there; trying to control his tears.
Then he looks upwards, as if trying to thank the Almighty for the turnaround.
And then he looks at the national flag -- the Tricolour -- hoisted in its full might at the stadium. He feels proud to be an Indian. And he smiles. Oh! What a smile it was -- like the sun shining through the dark clouds in the winter skies!
He then looks down -- his expression changing back to sombre. He feels relieved that he finally undid the fate he had brought to Indian Hockey seven years ago.
SRK had started his career in 1992 -- and it seemed like he had put all the 15 years of experience (till 2007) to that one scene which continues to give goosebumps to cinegoers even after hundreds and thousands rounds of watching.
The entire sequence is supported by career-defining composition by Salim-Suleiman -- 'Maule Mere', adding to the goosebump-y ride.
To years of mercilessly dumbing down of SRK's talent to suit his romantic image and movies, 'Chak De India' served as an antidote -- bringing to the fore the actor, and, for once, not the star.
Shah Rukh Khan, for the 18-year-old me back then, became a paradox -- a victim of his stardom and the culprit of his intelligence, and the most underused and overused actor at the same time. He still is.
India TV Recommends 'Chak De India' for its tear-jerking script, stellar performances by the cast, Salim-Suleiman's path-breaking music, and, perhaps, Shah Rukh Khan's best act till date -- the 24 seconds of the climax.