Vidya Malavade doesn’t play the sport anymore, but she has been following India’s women’s hockey in the on-going Olympic Games. And when the girls defeated World No. 2 Australia to reach the semi-finals for the first time to make history, she was as delighted as the rest of us, maybe more.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since morning and I was just a part of the reel… This… These women are the REAL DEAL… such PRIDE… such GRIT… so much POWER… Team INDIA Onwards and Upwards ladies,” posted an overwhelmed and teary-eyed Vidya, who had captained the team in Shimit Amin’s sports drama, even as cries of Chak De! India resonated across the country.
Rani Rampal and her incredible band of girls have since been edged out of the race to gold, losing narrowly to Argentina 2-1, but Vidya is no less proud. The actress, who had never played any sport before, trained for a year-and-a-half to convincingly play the goalkeeper in the film. “It was tough, starting from wearing the suit and the pads and waddling around like a duck to playing, running and doing a split in it to save a goal. I don’t know when the transformation happened, but it took time, effort, discipline, blood and sweat. Every day, for over a year, I was black and blue from being hit by the ball; all my toenails had fallen out,” Vidya reminisces.
She is quick to add that it’s even tougher for the real players, who come from humble backgrounds, have little support and don’t have the luxury of a retake, yet have been doing this for all their lives, giving their all to put the country on the world map.
She recalls a scene where Shah Rukh Khan — who played their motivational coach Kabir Khan, who’s battling his own demons — and she are together and he says, “Pehli baar kissi angrez ko India ka tiranga lehrate hue dekh raha hoon.” The words still ring in her ears.
Then there was that first scene where she arrives after some of the other players, who have introduced themselves as Balbir Kaur — Punjab, Nethra Reddy — Andhra Pradesh, and says simply, “Vidya Sharma — India.” She admits that the line gave her goosebumps even as she was reading it.
This character, a small-town girl who is being coaxed to quit hockey and settle down to domesticity, gave her namesake a lesson in determination, dedication and patriotism.
“That’s perhaps why deprived of the normal perks of an actor, like a vanity van or a hair and make-up person, I could go on and on for hours, sweltering in that heavy suit, through the rain in Delhi, the unbearable humidity in Mumbai and on the hottest day in 50 years Australia. It was physically taxing, but we pulled through. That’s what is called resilience,” Vidya asserts.
It’s been 14 years since the film released, but its memory hasn’t lost its golden lustre. For Vidya, her winning Chak De! India moment was when she was holding the cup in her hands as the country’s hockey captain. “It was scripted and the emotions only for the reel, but I understood in that moment what a sportsperson must feel bringing glory to the nation,” she says emotionally.
Prod her on their coach whom we remembered watching Team India’s coach, Sjoerd Marijne, pace restlessly, cheer lustily and frolic happily with the girls after their big win, and Vidya is all praise for SRK. “He was always there. The team was a mix of actors and real players and he was always mindful of the latter, telling them where the camera was placed and instructing them on light and angles. Off the field, he once whisked us all to a show of his film, Don, which had just released, followed by a meal and a party. I was sitting beside him, watching the film, and I had to pinch myself to believe it was for real. We called him Coach Sir, and then, because Shah Rukh sir was like a guardian to all of us and just so nice, we also fondly referred to him as ‘Papa Bear’,” Vidya signs off.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)