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Bollywood HockeyAlia Bhatt at premiere of 'Udta Punjab'.

The recently released Bollywood movie Udta Punjab has something special for the hockey lovers. The movie, which focuses on the drug abuse problem in the Indian state of Punjab, has hockey as a major influence with actor Alia Bhatt playing a role of a hockey player.

 Alia trained in hockey for a month and a half in Mumbai, before she began shooting for the film in Punjab. "I was given a coach and we trained at a place in Bandra. I would reach at around 6am every morning. The idea was to get the postures right, learn to hold the stick right and to control the ball. Hockey is a very difficult sport but I had to push myself because I wanted to be comfortable with the hockey stick, and project the certain ease in the body language of hockey players. I also wanted to bring a degree of strength and force to my character".



Udta Punjab revolves around drug-related problems in Punjab. The film stars Shahid Kapoor essaying the character of a high-on-drugs rockstar. Kareena Kapoor plays a doctor determined to fight the illegal transportation of drugs. Alia Bhatt plays the part of a Bihari girl who has gained prominence at the local hockey scene but is forced to give up her dream to work the fields in a village in Punjab to support her family.

Interestingly, film’s release coincides with the time when Indian hockey is on the rise. The men’s team recently finished second at the 36th Champions Trophy, their best ever position. The women’s team qualified for this year’s Olympics. It will be Indian hockey eves’ first ever appearance at the quadrennial stage since 1980, when women hockey made its debut at the Olympics.

Alia Bhatt plays the role of a hockey player in this movie based on the theme of the problems related to drugs. But in 2007, a Bollywood movie entirely based on women’s hockey, reverberated not only in India but got attention of the hockey lovers even outside.

Chak de India starring Shahrukh Khan was a huge success.

It is widely believed that the background of the movie was an actual Asian final involving India, a quarter of century back. In the 1982 Asian Games final, India lost to arch rivals Pakistan 1-7. To compound the misery further, it was in the capital city of New Delhi with the rest of the nation following on TV. Goalkeeper Negi was made the scapegoat. Negi was humiliated by press and public in no uncertain terms. After some years, Negi took to coaching. He became a national hero when Indian women team unexpectedly won the gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth games with Negi as the assistant coach. The theme of Chak de India was also that of a perceived villain turned hero. Indian captain Kabir Khan (Shahrukh Khan) misses a vital penalty stroke in final against Pakistan which meant defeat. He endures the same trauma as Negi.

After taking up coaching, he takes over the Indian national women team which the federation was even reluctant to send to the World Cup. Then the team was completely ridden with factionalism. Shahrukh blends the side into a cohesive unit which goes to Australia and ultimately lifts the World Cup itself.

In a country where Bollywood is 'The Passion', the success of movie had a profound effect in raising popularity of the game. A simple gauge for measurement: 20% increase in the manufacturing of hockey kits in India's sports industry. But the movie’s influence went even beyond that. Corporate groups, banks and even the police had special shows/group bookings for their workforce as a lesson in discipline, dedication motivation and team spirit.

Els van Breda Vriesman, the then International Hockey Federation (FIH) President, also enjoyed the film, which she understood with the Dutch subtitles, and was able to recall the dialogue. The 'Chak De' cry became the tagline for every sport in which India competes; not only hockey.

Today in India, the country’s national sport is undoubtably cricket which has been completely overshadowing hockey for last more than 30 years. Moreover, Indian hockey has failed to win any medal in the Olympics or the World Cup since winning gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when they benefited from the boycott of all the major hockey nations. The boycott was against the invasion of Afghanistan by the erstwhile Soviet Union.

There was a time when hockey was the most followed sport in world’s second most populous country. Hockey gave India a medal at every Olympics until 1972 including eight golds (more than any other nation). Their only other Olympic gold came in 2008 in shooting. In 1975, India also won the hockey World Cup for the first and last time.

All this history has meant that hockey often found prominence in several Bollywood flicks.

The scribe can recall quite a few. In the early 1970s movie Guddi, the film star Dharmendra plays himself. While shooting for a film, he is visited by some girls and when told that they had skipped school just to see him, Dharmendra responded, “During my school days, we used to miss classes to watch hockey matches.”

In Raj Kapoor’s epic, Mera Naam Joker it was during a hockey match in the school when Rishi Kapoor ‘s teenage crush for his teacher Simi Grewal transforms into lust.

In fact, Raj Kapoor was a great fan of Indian hockey. When the Indian team returned home with the 1975 World Cup, he arranged a big reception from them at his farm house.

Hockey stars enjoyed celebrity status and the big names of Bollywood took pride in socializing with them in public as well as in private.

When India won the World Cup in 1975, hockey was at the peak of its glory. An exhibition match was played in Mumbai between a film stars team and the Indian World Cup winning side. The film stars' side included mega names such as Raj Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Simple Kapadia, Jeetendra, Rishi Kapoor, among others. A huge crowd of almost forty thousand turned up to watch the match. The whole atmosphere of the playground was charged with the romance of hockey.

Dyhan Chand is widely acknowledged as the greatest hockey player of all time. He was India’s star performer in their first three Olympics victories in 1928, 1932 and 1936. National Sports Day in India is celebrated on 29August, the birthday of Dhyan Chand. Reportedly, two production houses including Yash Raj films are working on a film about Dhyan Chand.

Hockey India League (HIL) is the most lucrative hockey league in the world. One of the teams, Delhi Waveriders is co-owned by the Bollywood hero John Abraham.

Many believe that if Indian hockey team manages to win a medal at Rio, it could lead to production of a number of hockey themed movies.

 

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on hockey and other sports. For more about him and his work, visit: www.sportscorrespondent.info

This article and its accompanying photograph first appeared on fieldhockey.com and are reproduced here with the permission of Ijaz Chaudhry.

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