Reema Kagti’s ‘Gold’ attempts to bring to screen the fable-like tale of India’s triumph at the 1948 London Olympics where it won the gold in men’s field hockey—for the first time as an independent country. The focal point of ‘Gold’ is the spirited Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), the manager of the team, as he takes up the ordeal of lifting his country’s flag high in the Olympics despite the many financial, institutional and political obstacles that he faces. The film feels gold-coated, with a grand production design reflecting that particular time period. Pity, however, that under this coat there’s nothing that makes it stand out.
Kagti is no doubt well versed in sports because she designs screenplay solely based on genre conventions. She takes a relatively unknown chapter in Indian sports history and leafs through it with exaggerated tension and antiseptic characterization. One after another, people grace the screen mouthing patriotic one-liners about freedom, nation and brotherhood. They talk and act like movie people, and not for once does Kagti try to draw real emotions from these folks, who, we’re told, are real.
Protagonist Tapan Das is modeled on the archetypal coach in sports movie. So by that ritual, Das is someone who puts his hockey before his family. For a has-been, he has to prove to the federation, his players and to himself that he still can bounce back. Then there are familiar sports movie troupes like “you don’t play for yourself but you play for the team” and “tussles between blue blooded players and working class players”. The film manages to incorporate every textbook move to fill its 170 minutes of run time.
In the past few years, Akshay Kumar has released many films that tap nationalistic sentiments. He has already taken up the baton of being the Manoj Kumar of his generation. But he pushes too hard as a dramatic actor in Gold, putting on a Bengali accent and engaging in his many jovial antics. But Kumar delivers Tapan Das with unruly effect. He’s delightful in the film’s lighter moments with actress Mouni Roy, who plays Tapan’s demanding yet loyal wife, while in scenes that demand intensity, Kumar underperforms, which many may mistake for subtlety.
The film also boasts talented actors like Kunal Kapoor, Vineet Kumar Singh, Amit Sadh and Sunny Kaushal. Their performances are commendable. One would think that if the script had given them more space to grow, they could have made a more lasting impression.
Coming to the hockey games, Kagti gives them a distinctly modern touch. The way the players carry themselves doesn’t have the sense of yesteryears’ rawness. They feel polished and too pleasing to the eye. The climactic game has its moments and is played out with great tempo. But until then Gold digresses a lot; the finale deserved a better buildup.
With good backing from stars and studios, biopic sports films are having a great run in Bollywood. But films like ‘Gold’ suggest filmmakers need to get out of the shadow of safe genre filmmaking if they want this type of film to sustain for long.