Patriotism is the flavour of the season and Akshay Kumar — the new Mr Bharat, is now doing films that evoke national pride in innovative ways. He even sends the audiences out from Gold with a hearty cry of Vande Mataram. At least for the running time of this film, one can believe anything is possible if one just loves the motherland enough to put everything on the line.
Gold, directed by Reema Kagti, is a fictionalised account of India’s historic hockey win in the 1948 Olympics, significant because it was for the first time India participated as an independent nation; the earlier three golds were won for British India. At the 1936 match in Berlin, won by Indians led by Samrat (Kunal Kapoor) — in reality the legendary Dhyan Chand — against Germans on their home turf, with Hitler himself in the stands, the British flag was hoisted. But the team’s manager Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar) surreptitiously flashes a glimpse of the Tricolour hidden in his pocket, and the Indians quietly thump their chests.
By the time the 1948 Olympics are announced to be held in London, Tapan Das, who has been fired by the Indian Hockey Federation, and facing bad times, has the dream of fielding an Indian team “to avenge 200 years of slavery”. A Mr Wadia, described as a “fine Parsi gentleman” — in reality Naval Tata — gives him the go ahead to scout for players. When he gets a team with skilled players like Imtiaz Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), an arrogant royal Kunwar Raghuvir Pratap Singh, and the volatile Sardar Himmat Singh, together, India is partitioned; the Muslim players go over to Pakistan, the Anglos to England or Australia.
Tapan has to use all his powers of persuasion and pawn his wife’s (a pouting Mouni Roy) jewellery to train a team again. A ground and boarding are found in a Buddhist monastery in Kanheri Caves, where the players learn the value of unity and team spirit before leaving for England.
The script has pretty much all the sports movie clichés, the drama is amped up by the jealousy of rival manager Mehta (Atul Kale), and the open hostility between Raghuvir and Himmat. The outcome of the historic match (played exactly 70 years ago) is known, so the audience is kept hooked by off-the-field antics.
The production design is immaculate, and because Akshay Kumar is the ‘hero,’ two party songs are fitted in, so that he can dance. The star cannot carry off either a dhoti or a Bengali accent, but makes up for these shortcomings with sincerity and charisma. There is no point whipping the Brits now (mostly sneering caricatures) — anyway Lagaan did it already, and it’s considered rude to bash Pakistan, so Tapan and his team’s strength is built on the idea of putting aside the ego and playing for the nation. What is unsaid is that if only Indians could put aside class and religious differences (caste is not brought up), we would become an unbeatable force. Our leaders need to understand this.