If last year, around the same time, the audience was greeted by Akshay Kumar on a mission to extend the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan with Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, this year Akshay Kumar, as Tapan Das, is taking the audience back to a historic moment in Indian sports—the country’s first Olympic win in field hockey in 1948 in London, with Gold.
In this Reema Kagti's sports drama, Akshay Kumar is back to doing what he has been doing best in the last couple of years—spreading patriotic fervour and self-righteousness, both on screen and off it. Take for instance, the new video of the actor giving road safety tips that is being circulated on social media, or the slightly weather-beaten one, where he speaks against smoking and about taking care of women during periods (that, of course, timed perfectly with his last release, PadMan).
Tapan Das, a “paagal-Bengali” as he is referred to in the film, is a fictional character. He is introduced in the beginning of the film as a junior manager of the British India team during the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany. Like most Indians of the time, the hockey team, too, dreams of playing as a team from free India. The two players from the team—Samraat (Kunaal Kapoor) and Imtiaz Ali Shah (Vineet Singh)—who are given prominence in the film during the 1936 match, dream of a day when the Indian national flag will be hoisted on their victory unlike the British flag during this match.
The camera, at that point, quite predictably zooms in on Das—the mainstay of the film. So far, the film has been pitched as free India’s win at the Olympics, but that happens only in parts. Mostly, it revolves around Das, whose flawed Bengali accent is glaring at times. He is fraught with alcoholism, the effect of World War II on his employment with the Hockey Federation, and his drive to win at the London Olympics, in a country which had colonised India for 200 years. The motive is mostly revenge, rather than the victory of the country. After the partition, there’s another struggle for him to put together a competent team as the talented players have got divided between the two countries, while he also struggles at the hands of a tough hockey federation.
In the process, there are a lot of chest-thumping moments, two unnecessary songs (picturised on Akshay Kumar, of course), and many needless dramatic moments. For a director like Kagti who has blown us away with her earlier films like Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and Talaash, this comes as a surprise. There are moments that stand out though, like the struggle of the players from different ethnicities when the country is on the brink of partition, the struggle to find the perfect team to play in 1948, and the eventual meeting of the players from India and Pakistan. The climax of the 154-minute film is riveting. You find yourself cheering for an Indian win.
There are several dramatic moments that you wish weren't there. But not showing the Pakistan team as enemy, but as players who harbour the same dream as the Indian team—that of winning a gold as a free country under the captaincy of Imtiaz Ali Shah—is somehow redeeming. The sad part, however, is that in a film about a historic victory in sports—the first from free India—the players from both India and Pakistan are fictionalised. Vineet Singh as Shah, even in the small part that he has got, shows immense sincerity and restrain required for his character.
Of the other actors, between Kapoor, Singh, Amit Sadh and Sunny Kaushal, the last two have got a fleshed out part competing for the centre-forward position in the 1948 game. The plot around their rivalry, inadvertently reminds you of Chak De!, which has so far been the most revered film on hockey. Fortunately or unfortunately, Chak De! will continue to be so for now, because Gold seems too lopsided towards its star, trying hard to make Akshay Kumar a bigger hero than the sport itself.
Director: Reema Kagti
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kunal Kapoor, Vineet Singh, Amit Sadh, Sunny Kaushal, Mouni Roy