Director: Reema Kagti
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Vineet Kumar Singh, Sunny Kaushal, Nikita Dutta
The Bollywood sports film has settled into a template. Like sports films the world over, these films are also underdog stories. But more often than not, they are biopics or based on true incidents. And invariably they are not just about sport and winning against all odds but also about nation-building with dollops of patriotic fervor. Mary Kom, Dangal and now Gold, end with the Indian flag being hoisted and the National Anthem blaring. In these films, sports are never just sports.The playing field is a furnace in which national character is forged.
Gold follows the formula. The film has been written and directed by Reema Kagti who earlier made Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Talaash. The straitjacket of the sports film seems to have flattened her distinctive voice – this is a director whose first film features a couple who turn out to be superheroes. But here, there is no irreverence or edginess – Gold is a straight narrative told with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The story is based on India's astounding victory in the 1948 Olympics. It was the first time we participated as an independent country and the hockey team beat the British on their home turf. Just in case you miss the point, we are told, at least three times, that the match is an opportunity to take revenge for 200 years of subjugation. A voice-over frequently explains what we are seeing. The beats are predictable. And yet, Reema manages to make them effective. By the time, the hard-earned victory came, I was genuinely moved.
Be warned though, it takes two hours and thirty minutes to get here. Gold is unnecessarily bloated. The first half works more smoothly. With crisscrossing narratives, Reema establishes the stories of the two key players in the team – the royal Raghubir played by Amit Sadh and the villager Himmat Singh played by Sunny Kaushal. We also meet Samrat, played by Kunal Kapoor, a legendary player who later becomes the coach and Imtiaz Shah played by Vineet Kumar Singh, the captain who is forced to leave for Pakistan during the Partition. And of course Tapan Das played by Akshay Kumar, the junior manager, a hockey fanatic who builds the team and pushes it to succeed.
Gold is a fictional account of a real incident. I'm not sure how many people are aware of this victory so applause to Reema for bringing it to light. The film is handsomely produced. The period details are in place and despite some dull stretches, the narrative has hold. In the second half though, the wobbling becomes more precarious. The tonality alternates between dramatic and comic. I have no idea how much of the story is fiction but at one point, Buddhist monks play a key role in supporting the team. Tapan solves problems so easily that it seems outlandish. And of course the British are all villains – one of them says, "Find a way to beat the wogs." We also have federation politics, team politics and the necessary lectures on being a team player and national integration – all life lessons that Kabir Khan gave us in Chak De! India 11 years ago. Bollywood still has to make a hockey film to top that one.
The weak link here is Akshay Kumar as Tapan. First, you have to get past his muddled Bengali accent. Tapan is written as a complex character who drank and gambled but who was willing to risk everything for hockey. Akshay brings to the role a cheerful enthusiasm but little gravitas. He plays Tapan broadly, in an almost comic manner. Tapan's tragedy and frustration don't come across. At one point, the dhoti-wearing Bengali babu drinks and breaks into a distinctly North Indian song Chad Gayi Hai. The performance feels like it belongs in some other film.
Wisely Reema surrounds Akshay with more natural performers. Vineet, who radiates an understated strength, has the most poignant moments. Kunal and Amit are solid even though Amit relies too heavily on ramrod straight posture to indicate royalty. And I especially enjoyed watching Sunny Kaushal who is delightful as the short-tempered and talented Himmat. Mouni Roy, the only woman in the narrative, is wasted as Tapan's shrill wife – she keeps slapping him. But even she gets to declare that she is taking revenge for 200 years of British rule.
These inconsistencies and the exhausting length weigh down Gold. But Reema ably pulls the loose threads together in the thrilling climactic match. Nothing here matches Kabir Khan's sattar minute speech. But there is a palpable high when the team finally coalesces into one and goes for the kill. Besides, I always get a little emotional when the tricolor flies high. I think you'll fall for it too. .