“Gold”… A broad, rousing sports tale that’s a bad fit with the director’s refined sensibilities

Posted on August 26, 2018

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Spoilers ahead…

It’s surprising to find Reema Kagti in masala mode. Gold stars Manoj Akshay Kumar as Tapan Das, the manager of the Indian hockey team — but the film opens in 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, when it’s still the British Indian hockey team. The team wins, but when the national anthem is played, it’s still not our song. So the film’s ending should be a rouser. Because it’s the 1948 Olympics, in London, and what better revenge on the coloniser than to defeat him on home turf and stuff his ears with the anthem of the newly minted motherland! India wins. The anthem plays. It sounds beautiful, a symphonic version of a tune we usually hear from a brassy band. This is, on paper, a marvellous echo of the scene from the beginning of the film. But the echo stays in the head. It doesn’t resonate in the heart.

Masala movies are warm things, full of heat and spice. Gold is cold. The director makes the mistake in thinking that a masala movie simply means broad-brush filmmaking, which is like defining a raga by its ascending or descending notes. That’s just the framework. The real ras of the raga comes from the detailing, the fresh phrases, the microtones — and Gold never scratches below the surface. What you see is what you get. There are many juicy plot points — say, the team member (Imtiaz, played by Vineet Kumar Singh) who moves to Pakistan, during Partition, and runs into the Indian team again during the London Olympics. These are his friends, his colleagues, his brothers. The way this reunion is handled ensures that there isn’t a wet eye in the house. I recalled the scene from Soorma where the protagonist calls his brother to inform he’s been selected. That’s how it should be done. Gold wants to be classy. It tries to make a croissant out of bhajia batter.

Look at the lame interval point, where names are crossed off a list of team members. Instead of lightning and thunder, you get the rasp of pencil on paper. Unlike Talaash, which was incendiary material that could be handled in Reema Kagti’s tasteful style, Gold needs a director who’s a shameless hustler. There’s so little texture in the screenplay — and so much that’s reminiscent of older, better sports dramas like (the rousing) Lagaan and (the restrained) Chak De India — that in the absence of a forceful vision, the chest-thumping material comes off both overblown and bland. Everything feels perfunctory. Tapan’s fondness for booze results in one show-stopping song sequence, but is he an alcoholic or does he only drink when depressed? He seems to be able to stop very easily. (His big locker-room speech needed more… spirit.) This is a small point, but the bigger one is that there isn’t enough to Tapan that makes us root for him or his team. It all proceeds along preordained lines. Heck, look at the film’s title. There’s not much chance of nail biting about the Indians ending up with a silver medal, is there?

The other main characters are Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh) and Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal) — the former a pampered princeling, the latter an underprivileged policeman who rubs Raghubir the wrong way. But Reema, who managed to delineate a huge crowd of characters in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., is unable to make even these two men interesting. You wonder what she saw in this material. An easy hit, piggybacking on a star? A rah-rah story in tune with the present national sentiment? How did she reconcile herself with hockey scenes where white men are evil and brown men are good and pure? How did she not balk at the script that terms India trouncing England as revenge on the coloniser (on his soil, no less!), and goes on to repeat this point some 3,812 times? Did she not giggle when a senior member of the hockey board turned into exactly the kind of villain we predicted in the second reel? Gold feels like a sequel to Talaash, where we’re left searching for answers to a mystery: Whatever happened to Reema Kagti?

Copyright ©2018 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi