Gold Review: Great story, mediocre film
The film is about three-fourths Akshay Kumar, with Toiler: Ek Prem Katha being gold standard - 1 Akshay Kumar.
Gold is a Reema Kagti directed film, writing credits shared between Kagti and Rajesh Devraj but it is first and foremost an Akshay Kumar sports film, set at the dawn of independent India, releasing on Independence Day 2018. You know the drill. In the last four years, Akshay Kumar has built toilets in villages, educated India about menstrual health and hygiene, saved India from terrorists, played a patriotic naval officer, been instrumental in bringing back Indians displaced in the middle of Gulf war, many of these roles enacted in front of the national flag proudly beating the wind. In Gold, he plays Tapan Das, the man assuming the role of manager and coach, who after winning field hockey Gold in front of Adolf Hitler in Berlin 1936, dreams of bringing gold for independent India in 1948. Gold is a completely fictionalized account, from players to stakeholders to management, and events involved do not reflect what really happened. But in it is a solid story with the potential to stir something in you, a little bit of pride, patriotism and even jingoism, all in a measure that is now a standard unit by itself in Indian cinema - Akshay Kumar. Gold is about three-fourths Akshay Kumar, with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha being gold standard - 1 Akshay Kumar.
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh, Mouni Roy
Director: Reema Kagti
Kagti's film begins with a prologue in Berlin 1936, when fascist Germany was at its strongest and the Nazis used the Olympics to send a message of racial supremacy and anti-Semitism across the world. While Jesse Owens won four golds in athletics, British India beat Germany in the finals to win gold to complete a hat-trick. Tapan Das was present then too to witness freedom fighters shouting slogans and holding the early Swaraj tricolour. Das and his captain Samrat (Kunal Kapoor), a little too elite looking Dhyan Chand figure, vow to play for the tricolour and dream of winning the next gold as Independent India. Kagti films Gold in low contrast to give the period effect, the images look sepia-washed and distant. She also contrasts between different Indias of the time, the elite like Wadia sitting in a private club with colonial rules, to whom the dhoti wearing Das has to beg for the return of his job, or Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), a prince who wears his attitude on his expensive sleeves, and a son of the soil like Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal), who refuses a job with the police academy because he's watched his father get beaten by their nightsticks. Some of Kagti's visual flourishes find their way into the film, like how the young Raghubir and Himmat listening to the 1936 final on radio, transform into adults as Raghubir's car passes under the darkness of an arch. It is a men's field hockey film from the 1940s but thanks to Kagti, the women aren't ignored. The two of them are organically incorporated into the script, Das's wife Monobina (Mounri Roy) is a pillar of support both in physical and cerebral ways to the dim-witted, alcoholic Tapan. The only other woman of note is Himmat Singh's girlfriend in Amritsar played by Nikita Dutta, who for her spunk, deserves her own film.
Like Chak De India, here too Das must go through a rigorous scouting process before he can get to all the politics within and outside the team. Like Komal in Chak De India, Raghubir likes to go it alone on the pitch, refusing to pass the ball and play as a team. The groundwork begins in 1946 with Imtiaz Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh) as captain but the partition in 1947 breaks the team as decisively as it does the country. Unlike Shimit Amin and Jaideep Sahni in Chak De India, the makers of Gold fully buy into the highly emotional brand of patriotism and the film is always played in that high register. Still, Kagti keeps some highlights in throwaway shots. In one scene, Tapan and Monobina are separated by distance and the pressures of their responsibilities are established in a matter of a few seconds by a trunk call that fails to connect them. But in other times, Gold can be adamantly one dimensional. Das's journey takes him from Bombay to Delhi to Amritsar to Lahore to Gwalior. It goes from Phillaur Fort to Red Fort and even to Kanheri Caves. But weirdly, Das never drops below Nagpur on the map. Yes, Gold is fictionalized but the goalkeeper in 1948 gold-winning Olympic team (and in 1952 and 1956) was Ranganathan Francis from Madras. If you are making a film on 1948 Olympics that celebrates independent India winning an Olympic gold for the first time in a team event but continue to assume that the southern part of the country is dispensable, how disingenuous are you? Not very different from news channels from New Delhi, in 2018, one assumes.
It is not a surprise considering Akshay Kumar appropriated Tamil Nadu's Arunachalam Muruganantham story as the story of Lakshmikant Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh. Due to missteps like these, Gold can, at times, intentionally and unintentionally, hint that some limitations of 1948 India sadly remain true even in 2018. Tapan Das must not only put together a world-class team but also fight saboteurs like manager Mehta, trying to break team morale from within. In 1948, the power of sports federations and governance was in the hands of a few elites and it probably remains so in 2018, making the successes of Indian teams and individuals in world stage over the years something that occurs not because of but despite such oligarchical setup. At one point, Raghubir asserts his Thakur pride to his teammate and the level of casteism and classism has only proliferated since his time. A heartening stretch in Gold is when the Pakistan team members - who were recruited into Das's team before partition - stay back to support India in the final after losing in the semi-final to Great Britain. This might have been true in 1948. But in 2018, a biopic like Soorma, with the freedom to fictionalize, makes every match an India vs Pakistan match to artificially create emotional heft and patriotic fervor even if it was not the case in real life. Das, in his final inspirational speech dictated by genre compulsions, tells Raghubir that if he doesn't understand now, he never will. Maybe he is right and there is a lesson in there for us. We didn't understand crucial details in 1947 and it is 2018 now, the nuances remain unfathomable to us.