Date:10/08/2007 URL:
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Back to the goal post

M.R. Negi on celluloid? Not exactly but the former India goalkeeper has been the guiding spirit of “Chak De India”, a Shah Rukh Khan-starrer that is based on hockey. VIJAY LOKAPALLY

I refused when the offer came. I tried pushing Mervyn (Fernandes), Dhanraj (Pillay), Clarence (Lobo) into it but the film-makers wanted me. I don’t know why

Photo: Ashok Vahie

All in the game Mir Ranjan Negi

Goalpost, astro-turf, spectators, media…How he wished he could delete them from his memory…..He would wake up in the middle of the night, perspiring, gasping, petrified; hockey seemed a curse.

“Why did I ever play this game,” he would ask himself, avoiding public glare, rendered helpless at being vilified for a loss. How could an individual, a goalkeeper in this case, be savaged for a defeat, and not the other 10 on the same turf? Was hockey not a team game?

For Mir Ranjan Negi, life had become a nightmare. The 7-1 defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games final had brought unprecedented humiliation for India in a sporting arena. The nation went into a mourning and Negi into hiding.

Negi was accused in some quarters of having conceded those goals. In truth, the failure was collective. His team-mates stood by him but then they hardly mattered. He quit the game. He had no choice really. He was not spared at his wedding too, unruly elements disconnecting the power supply to the venue!

He returned to the hockey field, most grudgingly, 16 years later as a goalkeeping coach. India won the 1998 Asian Games gold at Bangkok, but the joy was short-lived as Negi, along with six players and the chief coach, was sacked by an ungrateful federation.

Trained the girls for six months as none of them even knew how to hold the hockey sticks.

The affable Negi now shifted to train the girls, won the Commonwealth Games gold in 2002, again contributing as a goalkeeping coach. Two years later, fate dealt a cruel blow. His 19-year-old son, Abhiranjan, died in a road accident.

Negi quit coaching too. He was lost to the world of hockey. Out of this struggle a story was born, the script woven around Negi’s inspiring comeback, a stirring saga that assumed the form of a movie with Shah Rukh Khan living the role on the big screen, much to the delight of the hockey fraternity.

“Lagaan”, “Iqbal”, “Hip Hip Hurray”, “Saheb”, “Awwal Number” and the more recent, “Tara Rum Pum” have been films with a sports theme. But “Chak De India” promises to be different.

“I refused when the offer came. I tried pushing Mervyn (Fernandes), Dhanraj (Pillay), Clarence (Lobo) into it but the film-makers wanted me. I don’t know why,” says Negi.

Best suited

Reluctantly he made a trip to the studio on the request of writer Jaideep Sahni and was hardly excited when he was handed the script. “But after two pages, I was transported back into time,” the Customs Officer from Mumbai discloses.

Producer Aditya Chopra convinced Negi that he was the man best suited to guide the filmmakers. “I was apprehensive because I have never been a film buff. Believe me, I have not seen even ‘Lagaan’,” confesses Negi.

Why did he agree then? “The story looked terrific and the characters so real. I saw hope for hockey through the medium of this film. And I changed my mind. I liked the atmosphere. I was also told that Yash Raj Films often make an impact with their movies. If women’s hockey could benefit with my little involvement in the making of a film on the game, why not?”

Negi was handed a collection of sports movies. “I was given CDs on the making of many sports films. It gave me basic idea of films. I met the 16 girls who make the team in this movie.

None of them had played or watched hockey. My job was to make them look real. As if it was the Indian team playing on the screen,” says the man who has provided the essential inputs to enhance the technical excellence of the movie.

“I trained the girls for six months. Waking up at 4, travelling from Kandivili to Churchgate. We would retire around 11 in the night. It was tiring. But we were on a mission.” The girls had problems wearing skirts. “They couldn’t run; couldn’t hold the hockey sticks. I ensured none of them cut their nails or eye-brows (as the players do). The girls have worked very hard. I salute them.”

For a particular shot, Shah Rukh took ten days. “It is a crucial moment in the movie. The angle and the execution is mind-blowing. Shah Rukh has done a tremendous job,” asserts Negi.

Hardly surprising, for Shah Rukh was the hockey captain at Delhi’s Hansraj College, even though he played football at school.

Hockey revival

On Shah Rukh, who is said to have done justice to the role, Negi says, “He is very humble, a great human being.

He has this amazing quality of remembering a person even though he may have met him for a mere two minutes. I spent two months with him when shooting in Australia. He showed genuine interest in the role because he loves hockey.”

Negi’s love for hockey stands revived. “It is a wonderful game and it needs support. The players need love and affection. Hockey will be back and believe me this movie will play a big role in creating awareness among the masses.

Women’s hockey is immensely attractive to watch. It is very popular abroad. Men’s hockey is brawny but women bring grace to the job.”

As Negi awaits the release of the movie this Friday, to watch the first show along with Shah Rukh, he would not mind, for a special and pleasant cause, going back to the goal post, the astro-turf, the media and the spectators. Only for the love of hockey!

Negi implores you to fill up the theatres. “It’s a beautiful film. There is amazing vibrancy about it. It is a treat.”

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