Chak De! India opens in Delhi during the final minutes of a fictional Hockey World Cup match between Pakistan and India, with Pakistan leading 1–0. When Indian team captain Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is fouled, he takes a penalty stroke. His shot just misses, costing India the match. Soon afterwards, media outlets circulate a photograph of Khan shaking hands with the Pakistani captain. The sporting gesture is misunderstood, and the Muslim Khan is suspected of "throwing" the game out of sympathy towards Pakistan. Religious prejudice forces him and his mother (Joyshree Arora) from their family home.
Seven years later Mr. Tripathi (Anjan Srivastav), the head of India's hockey association, meets with Khan's friend—and hockey advocate—Uttamaji (Mohit Chauhan) to discuss the Indian women's hockey team. According to Tripathi, the team has no future since the only long-term role for women is to "cook and clean". Uttamaji, however, tells him that Kabir Khan (whom no one has seen for seven years) wants to coach the team. Initially sceptical, Tripathi agrees to the arrangement.
Khan finds himself in charge of a group of 16 young women (each representing a different state), divided by their competitive nature and regional prejudices. Komal Chautala (Chitrashi Rawat), a village girl from Haryana, clashes with Preeti Sabarwal (Sagarika Ghatge) from Chandigarh; short-tempered Balbir Kaur (Tanya Abrol) from Punjab bullies Rani Dispotta (Seema Azmi) and Soimoi Kerketa (Nisha Nair), who are from remote villages in Jharkhand. Mary Ralte (Kimi Laldawla) from Mizoram and Molly Zimik (Masochon "Chon Chon" Zimik), from Manipur in North-East India, face widespread discrimination and sexual harassment. Team captain Vidya Sharma (Vidya Malvade) must choose between hockey and the wishes of her husband Rakesh's (Nakul Vaid) family, and Preeti's fiancé—Abhimanyu Singh (Vivan Bhatena), vice-captain of the India national cricket team—feels threatened by her involvement with the team.
Khan realizes that he can make the girls winners only if he can help them overcome their differences. During his first few days as coach he benches several players who refuse to follow his rules—including Bindia Naik (Shilpa Shukla), his most experienced player. In response, Bindia repeatedly encourages the other players to defy Khan. When she finally succeeds, Khan angrily resigns; however, he invites the staff and team to a farewell lunch at McDonald's. During the lunch, local boys make a pass at Mary; Balbir attacks them, triggering a brawl between the boys and the team. Khan, recognizing that they are acting as one for the first time, prevents the staff from intervening; he only stops a man from hitting one of the women from behind with a cricket bat, telling him that there are no cowards in hockey. In an about-face, after the fight the women ask Khan to remain as their coach.
The team faces new challenges. When Tripathi refuses to send the women's team to Australia for the World Cup, Khan proposes a match against the men’s team. Although his team loses, their performance inspires Tripathi to send them to Australia after all. The tournament begins with a 7-0 loss to Australia, followed by victories over England, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and South Korea. They are again matched with Australia for the final; this time, they defeat the Hockeyroos for the World Cup. When the team returns home their families treat them with greater respect and Khan, his good name restored, returns with his mother to their ancestral home.
Shortly after the film's release the media began referring to the 16 actresses who portrayed the players as the "Chak De girls". The panel of judges at the Screen Awards also used the term, awarding the 2008 Screen Award for Best Supporting Actress to the "Chak De girls".Anjan Srivastav as Mr. Tripathi, the head Indian hockey official
Vibha Chibber as Krishnaji, assistant coach for the Indian women's field hockey team
Javed Khan as Sukhlal
Mohit Chauhan as Uttamaji, Kabir's former hockey teammate and friend
Vivan Bhatena as Abimanyu Singh, Vice captain of the Indian national cricket team
Nakul Vaid as Rakesh, Vidya's husband
Joyshree Arora as Kabir's mother
Emily White as the Australian Field Hockey Goalie
A brief article about the victorious women's team at the 2002 Commonwealth Games inspired screenwriter Jaideep Sahni to create a film about the Indian women's hockey team, and he modeled Kabir Khan on hockey coach Maharaj Krishan Kaushik. After listening to the storyline Kaushik suggested that Sahani meet hockey player Mir Ranjan Negi, who faced accusations of throwing the match against Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games. According to Sahani, he was unaware of Negi's plight while he wrote the script and any resemblance to Negi's life was coincidental. Negi agreed, saying that he did not "want to hog the limelight. This movie is not a documentary of Mir Ranjan Negi's life. It is in fact the story of a team that becomes a winning lot from a bunch of hopeless girls". Responding to media reports equating Kabir Khan with Negi, Sahani said: "Our script was written a year and a half back. It is very unfortunate that something, which is about women athletes, has just started becoming about Negi."
Shah Rukh Khan stated in a speech delivered at the University of Edinburgh that the phrase Chak De! was originally "an inspirational martial cry that Sikh soldiers used while lifting logs in order to make bridges across rivers on their campaigns against their enemies. It implies the will to get up and get on with it."
Although Salman Khan was initially signed for the lead role, he later withdrew due to creative differences with the director. Shah Rukh Khan (who had originally declined due to a scheduling conflict with Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna) was later confirmed as Kabir Khan. Khan accepted the role partly because he used to play hockey in college: "I feel hockey as a sport has been monstrously neglected in our country. I used to play the game during college. In fact, I was quite a good hockey player. So the role was a lot like going back to my past." Some media sources called the actor's role offbeat, since it departed from his usual romantic image and included neither lip synched songs nor a single female lead. Casting of the 16 actresses as the hockey players took over six months. Amin described the process as "very, very difficult" and "very strenuous because the requirement was they had to play – and act". A four-month training camp was held where the girls learned the rules of the game, took acting lessons and followed a strict diet; safety precautions were also taken. According to Amin, "Learning hockey is very tricky unlike, say, football. You have to know how to hold the stick, how to manoeuvre it, so it doesn't look fake on screen ... For those who were originally players, we had to make sure they were able to act as well. The dialogue was weighty; it isn't frivolous. It has to be delivered with a certain tone, in a certain manner". The actors, including Khan and the rest of the supporting cast, participated in a number of rehearsals and script readings before principal photography began.
Kaushik and his team taught the crew "all [they] knew about hockey". In an interview, he later said that he "taught him (Sahni) everything about the game, starting from how the camp is conducted, how the girls come from different backgrounds and cultures, the psychological factors involved. Also how the coach faces pressure to select girls from different states and teams". After Negi was suggested, the latter assembled a team of hockey players to train the actors. He later said that he "trained the girls for six months. Waking up at 4, traveling from Kandivili to Churchgate. We would retire around 11 in the night. It was tiring. But we were on a mission ... They couldn't run; couldn't hold the hockey sticks. I ensured none of them [would have to] cut their nails or eyebrows (as the players do). The girls have worked very hard. I salute them". Some of the actors, such as Chitrashi, Sandia, and Raynia, were cast because they were hockey players. Rob Miller was the Sport Action Director, and worked with Negi to train the actors. About working with Khan, Negi recalled that everything was planned "including the penalty stroke that SRK missed. That shot alone took us nearly 20 hours as I was keen that it should be very realistic. I took the help of a lot of my former teammates. But more importantly, it was so easy working with SRK. He is unbelievably modest and was willing to do as many re-takes as we wanted". Chak De! India was filmed in India and Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), with ReelSports Solutions casting 90 hockey players and 9,000 extras.
Chak De! India premiered on 9 August 2007 at Somerset House in London to an audience of over 2,000 during the Film4 Summer Screen and India Now festivals. It was released globally in theaters on 10 August 2007, playing on only 400 screens in India because of the commercial failure of Yash Raj Films's two previous films.
Due to the film's strong critical response, theaters reported 80-percent occupancy for its opening weekend. Chak De! India topped the Indian box office during its first two weeks, and played to full houses during its first two months. The film was particularly successful in large cities. By the end of its theatrical run Chak De! India was the third-highest-grossing film of 2007 in India, with domestic earnings of ₹50,54,00,000.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave Chak De India a rating of 91 percent based on 11 reviews (10 "fresh" and one "rotten"). On Metacritic, the film had a score of 68 from four critics, indicating generally favorable reviews.
In an NPR interview via affiliate WBUR-FM, Mumbai Mirror columnist Aseem Chhabra called Chak De! India "an example of a film that's been made within the framework of Bollywood and yet it is a very different film. It does take up some realistic issues, and what I really liked about the film was that the women who acted, you know, who are part of the team, each one of them got a chance. Their personality, their characters, were very well-written, and so, the superstar in the film was Shahrukh Khan, who was the coach of the team; he doesn't sort of take over the whole film. Every supporting character gets a role, and it's a very inspiring movie that really changed the mood in India. People loved it". Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India gave the film four out of five stars stating that it was a film of "great performances by a bunch of unknowns." India Today called Chak De! India "the most feisty girl power movie to have come out of Bollywood ever." Sudhish Kamath of The Hindu wrote, "At another level, Chak De is about women's liberation. It is one of the best feminist films of our times." Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN gave the film four out of five stars, saying "Chak De's ... a winner all the way." Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express called the film "the most authentic, meticulously researched sports movie India has made". In Kolkata's Telegraph, Bharathi S. Pradhan wrote that the film combines "an extremely well-knit screenplay with unrelentingly deft direction, 16 unknown, and not even glamorous, girls simply carried you with them, with one single known actor compelling you to watch Chak De India without blinking". Jaspreet Pandohar of the BBC gave Chak De! India four out of five stars stating that "while the tale of the sporting underdog is hardly new, Jaideep Sahni's screenplay offers a rare look at a popular Indian sport often overshadowed by cricket." Andy Webster of The New York Times wrote that the film gave a fresh look to the conventional underdog sports film, comparing its premise to the U.S. victory in the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup. Derek Elley of Variety called Chak De! India "a patriotic heartwarmer that scores some old-fashioned entertainment goals." In The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt wrote that the "technical credits are first rate with excellent cinematography, quicksilver editing, musical montages of practice and a fine use of locations."
Michael Dequina of themoviereport.com was more critical of the film, giving it 2.5 out of four stars and calling it "a very familiar, very formula underdog sports movie with nothing to distinguish it from similar, equally slick Hollywood product." Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide gave Chak De! India two stars out of four, writing that the film uses "sports-movie conventions to address larger cultural and political issues, and while it doesn't miss a cliche, it also invests every one with vigorous conviction." Although Subhash K. Jha gave the film 3.5 stars, calling it "a fairly predictable story" with dialogue "quite often the stuff bumper stickers are made of", he wrote that "Chak De India is an outright winner" and "one of the finest sports-based dramas in living memory." Khalid Mohamed gave the film 3.5 stars in the Hindustan Times stating that the film "may be predictable but compels you to root for a team of losers whom only an earth-angel can save from disastrous defeat".
Apart from critics, Chak De! India tied with Taare Zameen Par for the Best film of 2007 according to various Bollywood movie directors such as Madhur Bhandarkar, David Dhawan, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Anurag Basu, and Sriram Raghavan.
Chak De! India has become an influential film. The title track song "Chak De! India," now doubles as a sports anthem in India and is played at numerous sports events. According to Salim Merchant, the song "almost became the sports anthem of the country, especially after India won the Cricket World Cup . It was no longer our song but the country's song". After India's World Cup victory, Indian team player Virat Kohli "sang 'Chak de India' to the crowd". When India defeated South Africa at the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Nitin Srivastava of the BBC noted: "MCG has erupted with "Vande Mataram" (the national song of India) and "Chak De India" (Go India!) slogans in the air! And there's no age barrier for cricket fans who came and enjoyed the match".
In addition, the suspension of the Indian Hockey Federation in April 2008 also indicated the film's influence. India Today used the title to label the event in two articles, titled "Operation Chak De impact: Jothikumaran resigns" and "Operation Chak de impact: Furore in Lok Sabha". The Indiatimes, in an article titled, "Five wise men set for a Chak De act" also argued, "It looks like Indian hockey has done a real Chak de this time around". In addition, former hockey player Aslam Sher Khan, who was appointed by the Indian Olympic Association to head a committee which will replace the IHF, pointed to the film as a model to work towards. He stated in an interview, "We have to make a Team India as you have seen in Bollywood blockbuster Chak De! India. There are players from several parts of the country. We have to unite them to make a powerful force." In another interview, he emphasised that he wants "to create a Chak De effect" on hockey in India.
Chak De! India's soundtrack, composed by Salim–Sulaiman with lyrics by Jaideep Sahni, was released on 1 August 2007. According to the Indian trade website Box Office India, with around 11,00,000 units sold, this film's soundtrack album was the year's eleventh highest-selling.