In the beginning of director Reema Kagti’s sports biopic, Gold, a young assistant manager of the national Hockey team of British India (in 1936), Tapan Das (played by Akshay Kumar), meekly interrupts the team’s discussion about their strategy in the Olympics final. During the game against the mighty Germans, in the midst of a serious discussion about the game and the technique, Tapan stands on a chair in the dressing room, takes out a flag of the Indian Freedom movement and gives the winning advice, ’British nahi, Ab apna khel khelein?’. No technique or a game plan. Just some big, lofty and borderline jingoistic words. This pretty much explains the direction this Akshay Kumar starrer is about to take in the next 150 minutes.
Tapan Das, after helping the National team win Gold at the 1936 Olympics, aims to make newly independent India proud by grooming its young talent to win the 1948 Olympics. A majority of the large team of actors forming the ensemble play Hockey players of the newly formed Indian and Pakistani teams. Predictably, Tapan plays the force that single-handedly fights against all odd. He faces all sorts of challenges (not sure whether these were fiction or facts) – a bickering wife who wants him to work, politics within the Hockey federation, archaic bureaucratic laws and his own chronic drinking problems. When things outside seem to fall into place, infighting begins within the team and again, not the coach or the captain, but the manager becomes the savior.
I was constantly reminded of another movie made about hockey, Chak De! India! While both the movies in a nutshell have a similar template – region-based divide in the team, an arrogant player, a star player and a coach/manager trying his best to bring home some laurels. In addition to these, Gold has a self-indulgent and overbearing manager at the center of the game – Tapan Das, played by Akshay Kumar. The movie revolves around Akshay’s character, thereby reducing the depth and intensity of the other characters. Be it Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De or Aamir Khan in Dangal, in spite of being the central character, they never let the sportspersons in their respective movies be overshadowed. There is a nuanced restrain that both their characters show, to prevent becoming over-prominent. This is where Akshay Kumar, with his inconsistent Bengali accent, grabs more limelight than his character should have. The character, undeniably, is well intended. But making him the lone man fighting every crisis – from logistics to game strategy – puts him on a pedestal, reducing the importance of others. In Chak De, Shah Rukh Khan shines in his speeches like ‘Sattar minute…’, while here we have Akshay Kumar getting drunk and dancing mindlessly in not one, but three songs! Well, commercial reasons I suppose!
To only be critical of the movie is unfair, since the movie also has certain aspects going well for it. Reema Kagti, who has in the past worked with big stars (Aamir in Talaash) and big ensembles (Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd), uses her skills of projecting every character beautifully within the character’s space. She is supported by the cinematography by Álvaro Gutiérrez, who gives some well shot and breath-taking scenes during the matches. It is interesting to note that the final match in the movie has been altered, to add more twists and melodrama. While the actual match in 1948 was won by India quite easily, the movie choses to make it a dramatic turn of event. But I am not complaining, the adrenalin rush in the climax was fun! The music and background score by Sachin-Jigar help maintain the momentum of a sports movie, especially during the nail-biting matches in the climax. I must admit, some of the songs, even though catchy, were completely unnecessary.
Amit Sadh, as the arrogant hockey player from a royal family, gets the best written role among the supporting cast, since the rest are pretty one dimensional. Sunny Kaushal as Punjabi player Himmat Singh gets lesser screen space but has a captivating presence and much like his elder brother, delivers a powerful performance. Kunal Kapoor as former captain Samrat and Vineet Kumar Singh as Imtiaz Shah are just about decent. TV actresses Nikita Dutta and Mouni Roy make their big screen debut but get only small parts to play. Mouni Roy, gets over-the-top in emotional or melodramatic scenes. I had to cover my ears, unable to bear her annoying screeching during emotional scenes.
But, the movie rests on the mighty shoulders of Akshay Kumar, the star. The star versus the actor debate has been raging for years now, where the stars (the likes of Khans and Kumars) claim that the audiences cannot accept them in roles which are not larger than life. I beg to differ. Audiences can accept a movie, If it requires the actor to take precedence over the star. Aamir Khan in Dangal and Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De! India are fine examples of a star losing his vanity and self-indulgence, to give the movie prominence over himself. Wish Akshay Kumar had done the same.
My Rating – 2.5/5