Brown-skinned Londoners score over whiteys in a football saga that aims high but lands low.
NOV 25, 2007 – THE OBSTREPEROUSLY-TITLED DHAN DHANA DHAN GOAL gets going with an account of the woes of Southall United, a mix of players of South Asian descent belonging to a football club that hasn’t won a match in 25 years. (That they’re hardly in the best of shape is reinforced with a tired visual metaphor: an alphabet is almost falling off the team-name that’s inscribed on the arch that leads to their playing grounds – which is about as clever as the film gets.) And if that isn’t bad news enough, their lease is up, and a Heartless and Soulless White Woman wants to take over these grounds and build a shopping mall, at which point, Shaan (Arshad Warsi) bursts out, “Yeh zameen hamari thi, hamari hai, hamari rahegi.”
It’s interesting how he words his angry declaration that this patch of land that they play on was, is, and will forever be theirs. By using the term zameen – which has far more emotional connotation than, say, “field” or “maidaan” – Shaan seems to be staking out a claim for himself (and his brown-skinned brothers) in his adopted homeland of England. (And of course, it’s the white man – okay, in this case, a white woman – that he’s fighting with for this land.) So Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal isn’t just about these underdogs escaping to victory (in a football tournament), but about these South Asians proving a point to the snotty Brits that they’re as good, if not better. It’s essentially Lagaan set out there, instead of over here.
This conceit alone would have been enough heavy lifting for a film that could have been just a rousing crowd-pleaser – but there’s more where that came from in the subplot involving Sunny (a relaxed, charismatic John Abraham, who seems to act best when asked to do no “acting”). He plays for Aston – a team otherwise full of whites – and he gets riled up when a fellow-player (who looks like a very young Kenneth Branagh) calls him a “Paki bastard.” His irritation isn’t due to the insult about his skin colour so much as the insinuation that he doesn’t belong there – for according to Sunny, he was born in England, and is therefore a British national. “Why are you confusing me?” he yells at his estranged father when the latter berates Sunny (because he isn’t particularly loyal about playing for Southall), and you sympathise with him, with his having to shoulder the burden of a bogus brand of patriotism simply because his first-generation-immigrant parents haven’t fully assimilated into their new homeland.
With all this going on, it would take a special talent to end up with a boring film that doesn’t know when to call it quits – but director Vivek Agnihotri clearly has it. Even without these Big Themes, there is enough to make for a no-frills, root-for-the-underdog sports movie: there’s the unexplained-at-first friction between Sunny and his father; there’s the animosity between Shaan and Sunny (which becomes worse when Sunny falls for Shaan’s sister Rumana, played by Bipasha Basu); there’s the fact that the cocky Sunny has to learn that it’s a team game and not a one-man show; there’s the bit about the washed-up (is there any other kind?) coach Tony (Boman Irani) having to resurrect himself in his own eyes as much as the eyes of others; there’s the angle about this blue-collar bunch having to arrange for gear, a sponsor, a tour bus, and so on. But none of this is handled in a way that’s remotely interesting.
There’s even a ton of potential for humour when you consider that Rumana is the team’s physiotherapist – I think, though she spends most of her time bringing beer for the boys – and when you think about the possible, uh, physiological repercussions when this bombshell takes to massaging, say, the hamstrings of a heartily red-blooded group of males away from (or entirely without) wives and girlfriends. But the only humour here is of the unintentional kind, as when Tony’s wife (a hapless Shernaz Patel, who, after this, has no doubt found more compelling reasons to stick with her day job at the theatre) sticks white flowers into a vase containing blooms of every other colour, and trills, “Alag alag rang ke phool ek saath kitne achche lagte hain.” This is her subtle hint that Southall United’s diversity is actually a good thing – and that sound you didn’t hear is that of audiences around the world gagging into their popcorn.
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