Gold: Not All that Glitters is ‘Gold’
Movie Review by Surangama Guha Roy (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Independent India’s magnificent victory against its erstwhile colonizers in the 1948 London Olympics is a feat that is rarely talked about, and for much of the millennial generation, the fact remains largely unknown. In that light, Reema Kagti’s Gold is an enthusiastic tribute to one of India’s great, yet lesser known, hockey achievements. What disappoints is the screenplay, teetering precariously every now and then, and only managing to pull itself together by the skin of its teeth, solely due to the powerful emotional connect that sports dramas inevitably invoke. That, and a few heart-warming performances.
The film opens with British India’s victory in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where the entire team, inspired by junior manager Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), becomes teary-eyed with the collective dream of winning the gold for a free nation one day. Then war happens, and the dream remains unfulfilled, becoming more and more like a distant mirage.
Finally, though, the Summer Olympics is announced, and with India’s freedom now a distinct possibility, Tapan builds his dream team, only to be shocked out of his reveries when with the approaching independence, the British decide to arbitrarily divide the nation. The country’s map changes; a new nation, Pakistan, is created, and Tapan’s team is torn up, leaving him heart broken.
When all seems lost, a glimmer of hope appears. The plot now follows Tapan’s journey as he begins to rebuild his team with new fervor.
What could have been a taut narrative of team politics, jealousy and the struggles of building a winning team, has for the most part, become a painstaking endeavor in gaining sympathy for its lead protagonist, thanks to a confused screenplay. Tapan is seemingly a wastrel, steeped in vices like gambling and drinking. The only thing that gives him a new lease of life, preventing him from wasting away completely, is his powerful attachment to the game of hockey, and his Olympic dream. Yet, the character lacks profundity, and Kumar fails to invoke genuine sincerity in a heavily stereotyped, almost caricature-ish character. His dhoti-clad, fish-eating Bangali babu speaks heavily accented (and wrong) Bengali. Tapan’s wife, Monobina, played by Bengal-born actress Mouni Roy, is a pretty face with suspiciously pouty lips who squeals shrilly in a peculiar concoction of atrocious Hindi mixed for good measure with a strangely Bollywoodized Bengali.
Speaking of stereotypes, the script relies heavily on them. For instance, the Punjabi characters are shown to be typically hot-blooded, with hearts of gold. One is driven to wonder why Bengalis are made to become ridiculous in their stereotyping, and Punjabis inevitably become more endearing in the same. The British too, are all villains!
While Akshay Kumar clearly has trouble making his Tapan into a flesh and blood person, some of the other characters stand out, simply because of how the actors choose to play them. Thus, Sunny Kaushal imbues his Himmat, a rustic, impassioned young hockey talent from Punjab, with a heartfelt simplicity that is instantly likeable, while Amit Sadh brings an understated sublimity to his Raghubir Pratap Singh. Vineet Singh’s Imtiaz is gentle, and somehow Singh manages to infuse his character with sensitivity in the relatively short span of screen time that he gets. Kunal Kapur, though, is relegated almost to the status of a guest star. Nostalgia hit me as I was taken back to the shayari spouting Aslam from his Rang De Basanti days, that continues to be Kapur’s magnum opus on screen, as far as I am concerned.
Personally, the music failed to make a mark. Sachin-Jigar’s ‘Ghar Layenge Gold’ is spirited, and Arko Mukherjee’s ‘Naino ne Bandhi’ sung by Yasser Desai is perhaps worth a mention. And although intentionally over-the-top, the song ‘Chad Gayi Hai’, and especially the picturization of it, came as an assault to the senses.
Reema Kagti, whose last two films – Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd and Talaash — have clearly shown a penchant for the fantastic, seems restricted here by the real nature of the plot, although in true Bollywood style she plays with believability, including making a Buddhist monk break his vow of silence to meet his hockey hero. The first half is wobbly and denies the audience an opportunity to connect emotionally with the sport itself. It, however, establishes the personalities of some of the key players in the team, preparing us for the imminent conflict between them which, predictably, culminates in one of the climactic plot points, somewhat reminiscent of a similar conflict shown with lesser impact in Chak De India eleven years ago.
Post-interval, the pace picks up, as the fractious team gets onto the field. The drama becomes more intense, with a series of heartfelt moments. When the tri-color finally flies high, and you rise for the national anthem, don’t be surprised to find that little lump in your throat.
What stayed with me as I walked out of the theatre was the purity of the friendship shown between the Indian and Pakistani players who had known each other in a pre-partition India, and meets again post-independence. A vision of what could have been, but isn’t, flashed across my eyes. Kudos to Kagti for making that vision possible!