Given Bollywood’s feeble record at making films based on real events, it is no surprise that Gold is more fiction than fact.
Fact: India, the newly freed nation from ‘do sau saal ki ghulami’, beat Britain in the 1948 Olympics hockey final. How this happened, the events that shaped the triumphal win, the players and the officials who made it possible, is almost all fiction.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get why: if you have a big star, you have to build him up at the expense of all else. So what if you have to sacrifice accuracy and authenticity in that pursuit; all you need is a rousing, emotion-laden drama, full of patriotic fervour. What other kind of sporting film is there, after all? All sports stars have to be the cheer-leaders of the nation, and Bollywood knows that better than anyone else.
Reema Kagti is skilled enough to give us a film with all its moving parts in fine working order, even if it is bereft of nuance. Akshay plays the wholly fictional Tapan Das, the man who has been closely involved with Indian hockey for years, from the pre-World War II years when the ‘British Indian’ hockey wizards under the great Dhyan Chand ran off the Germans in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (in the movie, we see the grumpy character playing Hitler stomp out of the stadium) to the time after, when the freedom struggle and the Quit India movement was at its peak, resulting in the bloody Partition which divided the sub-continent, and tore the Indian hockey team apart. Some went to Pakistan, some to Australia, the rest disbanded dispiritedly.
It is left to the Bengali babu Tapan, whose accent keeps slipping despite his pouty wife Monobina’s (Roy) exhortations about ‘feeesh’ and brain-power, to pull together a rag-tag team and lead it to Olympic gold. Along comes a benign Parsi gentleman who smoothens things for the doughty Tapan and his boys, comprising, among others, the snooty Thakur (Sadh) who will only play centre-forward, the young Sardar (Kaushal) who is so good that he is the ‘turup ka ikka’, the player (Singh) who chooses to choose his side after 1947, as well as the former captain (Kapoor) who turns mentor.
The period is done beautifully, and despite the predictable sports film tropes–underdogs coming up top, conflicts being resolved, last minute fortune reversals—the younger players keep up the tempo, with debutant Sunny Kaushal doing a stand-out job.
It’s not as if Akshay isn’t fully there. He immerses himself in his role, playing the sad sack when things go awry, fooling his wife for some monetary handouts, falling about drunkenly after his alcoholic bouts, always redeeming himself by keeping his love of the sport squarely in the centre. But all this takes up much too much screen time, and takes crucial focus away from the game and the players.
So do a couple of superfluous songs-and-dances, which slacken the pace. A little less Akshay, and minus the songs, Gold would have been tauter, better.
What makes the film worth a watch, despite these problems, are the flashes of well-done humour, the skirmishes between the players, and the rousing finale. You know you are being played, but you don’t expect anything else, because it’s that kind of film : when the `tiranga’ went up, I teared up.