Sports films, be it in Hollywood or Bollywood, follow the tried and tested template – an underdog team, a motivational figure, official apathy, inter or intra-team conflicts, personal hurdles and at the end, sweet victory in a nail-biting finish. It’s all very predictable, so why do we love them so much?
It’s because there is a strange thrill in watching the loser surmount barriers, beat the bad boys and scream victory. You find yourself rooting – aided by pulsating music and deft camerawork that capture exciting moments on the field – for the good boys and girls. In their victory, you get an adrenalin rush. And in their moment of glory, you feel joy and pride.
Does Akshay Kumar’s patriotic period hockey drama Gold, directed by Reema Kagti, releasing this Independence Day, give you that rush? Sadly no.
Based on the first hockey gold of independent India in the Summer Olympics of 1948, Gold ticks all the boxes of a sports film. There is the quintessential underdog – a junior coach Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar) obsessed with the idea of getting an Olympic medal for his team in independent India as opposed to British India. There is a caricaturish villain in the form of the team’s senior manager (quite akin to Dangal’s coach) who doesn’t care much about Tapan’s methods or dreams. Then there are players who squabble, and others who believe in his vision. There are Partition scenes, riots, Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai emotions, India-Pakistan brother-brother messages, an inspirational background song during a practice session and a big fat common enemy – the wicked Angrez who are blamed for all of Bharat’s ills. We aren’t giving away anything by saying that Tapan and his men get their eventual revenge for “200 years of slavery”.
No doubt, India’s hockey gold medal post independence against the British side, makes for a remarkable story, but the passion that is there in history is sorely missing in Reema Kagti and Rajesh Devraj’s script. Gold rarely offers our protagonists any conflict. Potentially serious problems are solved with an ease that our freedom fighters would have envied. For instance, every time the senior coach makes noise about Tapan, he calls the chief funder Mr Wadia who backs him. A monk in a monastery donates his entire ashram for the players’ boarding and lodging, after initially refusing it because Tapan names a famous player who would be part of the group. A random fight between players is solved using a silly brick-game that teaches them the spirit of team work. A rich royal brat Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh) has problems mixing with others but a lecture sorts him out. And Tapan fields an excellent hockey team twice (before and after Partition) in a matter of minutes. Easy peasy!
Gold also suffers, from what I would say, a Chak De India Hangover. As far as hockey films go, Shah Rukh Khan’s 2007 drama gave us some unforgettable moments and characters. Who can forget Bindiya Naik, Preeti Sabherwal or Komal Chautala? Each had their own back story, scenes that established their motivations and all of it was wonderfully held together by coach Kabir Khan aka Shah Rukh Khan.
Gold has way too many parallels with Chak De but with half the impact. At one point, when Akshay lectures about the need to forget states and instead, talk of India, you almost feel you are watching SRK. As in Chak De, the players here too fight among themselves but without any context or reason. When Raghubir Pratap Singh refuses to pass a ball, you can almost hear Komal Chautala screaming ‘Pass Priti Pass’. And there is a locker room lecture reminiscent of the famous sattar minute speech.
In such a scenario, it’s difficult to feel for any of the characters including Tapan Das who inexplicably falls in and out of alcoholism depending on the news in the papers. Now, Akshay is his usual wonderful self but the supremely self-conscious Bengali takes away from his performance. When will our filmmakers understand that mouthing ‘Shopna’, ‘Motlob’ ‘Ghor’ doth not a good Bengali babu make! Especially if the Bengali babu switches to Punjabi when he gets drunk in a song! Akshay almost seems to have walked from the Toilet: Ek PRem Katha and Padman sets to this one, with the National Flag in his pocket intact.
Other actors are only marginally better. Amit Sadh is charming as the haughty royal while Kunal Kapoor is good as Samrat, the former Olympian who believes in Akshay’s vision. The surprise package is Sunny Kaushal as Himmat Singh, the energetic player with anger management issues. However, Mouni Roy is a huge let down. It’s hard to take attention away from her bee-stung lips but her pouty Monobina, Tapan’s perennially angry wife, seems too random to be taken seriously.
The characters of Britishers are so one-note that it’s laughable. You know, the archetypal officer speaking in Lagaan’s Captain Russell’s Hindi, plotting to weaken our unity! It’s good that unlike us, the Brits aren’t too easily offended by the way they are portrayed in our films!
Reema Kagti, who gave us the delightful Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and the haunting Talaash has failed to add depth or layers to this film which is entertaining for sure but plays to the gallery; what could have struck gold ultimately ends up being a pale shade of bronze.