Synopsis – Set in 1948, the historic story of India’s first Olympic medal post their independence.
My Take – For a few years now, keeping aside the occasional ‘Housefull’ film, Akshay Kumar has been starring in films themed with immense patriotism, and while his latest film tackles Bollywood Achilles’ heel i.e. a sports drama, this Independence Day release is no different. As an audience we love sports dramas, mainly as there is nothing in comparison to the adrenaline rush the staged match gives you, and add to that a little patriotism, you have yourself a winner in hands. Which explains why so many Bollywood filmmakers keep attempting to tap into the genre’s potential stories that provide ample scope to make a good drama around team conflicts, internal politics and individual aspirations.
Here, this Reema Kagti directed film, which is backed by Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar‘s Excel Entertainment is the latest to tap into the genre, where it provides a fictitious account of the true events from India’s win in the 1948 Olympics as a newly independent nation, whilst still in the midst of all the rumbles of Partition, a tragedy that divided, if not wholly crippled, the Indian hockey team, as it did India. Thankfully, despite its political undertones and commercial ingredients, it all works, that too quite well, as the compelling story manages to rise above it all.
The story follows Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), a shrewd Bengali manager of the British Indian Hockey Team, who along with the Samrat (Kunal Kapoor), the Captain of the team, vowed to win a gold medal for an Independent India, even as they bow before the British flag after winning the 1936 Olympics finals. But when the Olympics take a backseat with the World War II raging and India on the other hand, on the brink of achieving freedom, Tapan finds solace in alcohol and indulging in fraud activities, with his nagging yet supportive wife, Manobina (Mouni Roy), being the only hook in his wasteful life.
But hope shines once again with the announcement of 1948 Olympics, which he seeks as perfect opportunity to seek revenge from the British Empire, by winning a gold and witnessing a free Indian flag hoist on British soil. However, it’s all easier said than done, as Samrat has retired, and the moment he constructs his latest team after convincing the higher ups to allow him to scout players for his new team captain, Imtiaz (Vineet Kumar Singh), India’s partition plays spoilsport, which once again divides his team, but with younger and talented Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), of the Balrampur royal family, and a Sikh village boy Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal) set as his key players, Tapan sets out to get the national team once again ready for a journey that isn’t going to be easy.
Simply put, the film is only and all about independent India’s first Olympic Gold medal, and how Tapan Das works his way through to form a formidable team and manage it to victory. While the set-up is totally ideal and somewhat predictable, director Reema Kagti (Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Talaash), chooses to stray away from the intense drama of Chak De! India, she chooses a middle ground and succeeds in infusing the right blend of emotions and patriotism to make you feel proud as an Indian. It adjusts Akshay Kumar brand of comedy and emotion-driven songs with ease into a script that’s mostly about a simple man’s desire to see the world in a new light. In fact, truth be told, the film’s screenplay is one of the finest this year. You meet the key characters, get introduced to their struggles and understand the conflict that’s getting bigger. And guess what? All this happens without being in your face that’s so typical of Bollywood sports dramas.
First half of the film relies majorly on Tapan Das scouting for a team that will bring back the gold home to a free India, there are couple of moments which will evoke patriotism in you but rest of is just a build up to an exciting second half, and a thrilling climax. A special mention of the scene including Hitler in the start of the film; that clicks brilliantly setting up the patriotic base for the film. Here, director Kagti seems uninterested in breaking this story down into muscle-flexing drill sessions, instead questioning what truly merits celebrating in the squad’s progress. Her script pays credible lip service to political debates, but she also has immense fun with those scenes bringing disparate folk together on pitches or in nightclubs, and sneaks in sly glimpses of Tapan Das’s relationship with a wife who coaches him on how to be a better man.
The film is brilliant in parts, especially when it correlates with historic events. Nothing spells patriotism better than scenes from the great Indian freedom struggle. And the film wisely provides lots of that. You can sense the players’ frustration as they play for a different nation. You feel the pain when Indians are asked to choose between their country and a new one. The film manages to successfully capture the confusion of that period, making you relate to the goings on, on a personal level. Also, the film never indulges in Pakistan bashing, which is a refreshing change. They could have easily fallen prey to the lure of bringing in some good old rivalry and the resulting drama but it instead places the neighboring country in high regards, making them seem as much of a victim of partition as India.
While the film does remind you of the Shah Rukh Khan starrer ‘Çhak De! India’, especially during the scenes involving the federation politics and team players involving themselves in groups according to their states, who later on come together as a team to make the country proud. While I did personally feel that the backstories of the players could have been given more screen time; however, the film is not about them at all – it’s about India. There is an attempt to highlight patriotism in the film; the film talks about the 200 years of harassment that Indians faced in the hands of the British, multiple times. But film’s brilliance and its heart lies in the hockey matches which are directed and edited beautifully.
Director Reema Kagti, who has until this film worked on a smaller scale, does a convincing job of decorating her large canvas with neatly-choreographed hockey matches, sepia-tinted frames and archive footage to convey her pre-independence message. With her sharp, quick cuts, and a fabulous score, Editor Anand Subaya have made these scenes pulse with tense excitement and end on in teary jubilation. While some unnecessary song-and-dance routines end up affecting the pace of the film, the actors tend to make up for it. Led by Akshay Kumar who shines as Tapan Das and proves to be the most entertaining factor of the film. Here, Akshay explores various shades in the film, from comedy to romance to drama, and nails every single one of it. He’s high on energy throughout his performance and that goes in his favor and ends up delivering one of the finest performances of his career.
Although Akshay Kumar is the soul and heart of the film, other actors get to shine as well. Mouni Roy looks sexy and sultry, and turns in a delightful and natural performance. The underrated Kunal Kapoor will leave you once again highly impressed with yet another top-notch performance. Amit Sadh excellently portrays the caricature of privileged nobility at its best. Vineet Kumar Singh’s performance is sobering, even though he has a limited role. Sunny Kaushal (Vicky Kaushal’s brother) turns in a solid performance too. His romantic track with the delightful Nikita Dutta is one of the highlights of the film. Udaybir Sandhu also leaves a mark. On the whole, ‘Gold’ is a brilliant slice of history and an engaging sports drama uplifted by its strong performances.
Directed – Reema Kagti
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 151 minutes