Mir Ranjan Negi, whose real-life story became 2007 reel success Chak De! India, in Ranchi on Sunday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
If there is any word that can describe him best, it is ‘fighter’.
Mir Ranjan Negi — former player and Team India’s erstwhile hockey coach who inspired the 2007 Bollywood blockbuster Chak De! India — has been through life’s worst nightmares. A flashback into his uncomfortable past still makes his eyes moist, but the 55-year-old game veteran did not dodge a single question as he candidly spoke to this correspondent in his hotel room in Ranchi on Sunday afternoon.
His maiden visit to the Jharkhand capital is because he is one of the official commentators for the first edition of Hockey India League (HIL). And the man of mettle minced no words to say that he was jittery at first.
“This is my first time. I was not sure if I could do it or not. But as the league is about to end now, I am getting calls from everywhere, saying people are loving my style of commentary,” he exuded almost boyish excitement. “Lot of home work went into it. I just don’t do things for the sake of it. Commentary is a skilful art, where you have to make the audience watch what they cannot see,” he added.
Not just for his experience in the game, Mir Ranjan Negi is a veteran in his own right.
In the aftermath of India’s 1982 Asian Games debacle, when the team lost to Pakistan by six goals, with Negi at the net, his life turned upside down. Branding him a traitor, the Indian Hockey Federation abandoned him. For close to two decades, he slipped into oblivion.
“I was dying to hear something good about me for years. But, wherever I went, I was only abused. I was very young and the pressure was unbearable. At times, I even thought of killing myself. I almost did once, but my parents (both teachers) came to my rescue. They made me believe that I did nothing wrong,” recalled the man, who is also a customs officer in Mumbai.
“For 16-17 years, I wasn’t allowed to play in the team. But, I never left the game. Every day, I practised for hours, alone,” he went on.
Years later, Negi was made the goal-keeping coach of the men’s team that clinched gold at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. For reasons best known to higher authorities, he was soon removed from the job. Later, a close friend and hockey player helped him become the goal-keeping coach of the women’s team, which amid several adversities bagged gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games and also won the 2004 Asia Cup.
Three years later, this unmatched struggle of a fallen hero inspired producer Aditya Chopra to shoot Chak De! India, which re-ignited India’s love for its national game.
Negi sadly reminisced that his 19-year-old son had died the very day he was offered the role of Shah Rukh Khan’s off-screen mentor for the film.
“I was involved in it (the film) right from the start till the end. As a technical expert, I trained the girls and Mr Khan. Film banne ke dauran main kafi baar jiya aur kafi baar mara bhi. (During the shooting, I lived and died many times). Today, the film has changed people’s perception. They call me traitor no more. I am addressed as Negi saab, or sir. I feel reborn because of the film. I am using this new life to its fullest,” said the Chak De man who was recently seen in the reality show Jhalak Dhiklaja.
So, is he looking for more such television assignments?
“Not really. My heart beats for hockey and hockey alone. The game is the reason that I am alive till now,” he said.
Speaking on HIL, Negi maintained that hockey was set for a major revival. “After Chak De! India, the federation failed to harness the craze. Nothing was happening on the game front and we were waiting for something like IPL to happen so that hockey could rise like the phoenix. I foresee that the time has come,” he said.
Is he open to coaching?
“I will be interested in coaching a women’s team for the simple reason that everywhere people try to marginalise the fair sex. Every day and night, I have dreamt of taking the game to its next level. And this will be my way of doing it.”
Last but not the least, if he were to describe himself in a few words, how would he?
“Call me a motivator. If I can inspire one person to play the game, if I can stop one person from committing suicide and if I can stop one person from drug abuse, my existence will be justified. If I fail, just call me Mir Ranjan Negi, former hockey player,” he signed off.
Do you think HIL will revive craze for the game in the country? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org