Akshay Kumar plays Tapan Das, assistant manager cum talent scout cum hockey crazy person who pawns his wife's jewellery to find good hockey players for the team. He makes you want to like the game of field hockey as much as he does, and you understand his die-hard enthusiasm and also feel his misery when he is forced to be away from the game.
The film opens with team India winning the field hockey gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. When the British anthem is played, the team salutes the Indian flag Tapan Das the manager, carries secretly in his pockets. It's a fabulous, cinematic moment which makes the point that the team yearns to play for india and not the British.
The rest of the film alas, manufactures patriotism with the finesse of a sledgehammer. Plus they chose to release the film on India's independence day which falls on August 15. And also take advantage of the fact that on the 13th of August, 1948, the team fulfilled their hockey gold dream. And that's why the title of the film.
With the World War destroying most of the world, Tapan Das's sports career is down in the gutters where he is frequently found in drunken stupor. Akshay Kumar plays the role of Tapan Das well. His passion for hockey seems real even though his accent isn't. If you grit your teeth to the appearing and disappearing accent and manage to sit through that, you get to see how Tapan Das, with the support from the president of the hockey federation - a caricature Parsi person - a Mr Wadia, reuniting the old team by traveling the length and breadth of the country. Captain Samrat has retired and is coaching Gwalior Colts. The dashing Kunal Kapoor is Samrat is rather under-utilised in this small role. And you, along with Tapan Das are disappointed. But we come across the hotheaded Himmat Singh romancing his girl (of course she says cliched things like 'win me gold if you want to marry me'). You get tired of counting cliches in the film but you find solace in the lotus pond setting where Himmat Singh romances his girl. But counting sports movie tropes does not end. There's Amit Sadh who plays 'prince of Balrampur' named Raghuvendra Pratap Singh, who is a very good hockey player but arrogant and entitled. And even though the comeuppance he gets from the captain - play tennis because in that game you can take credit for the wins, but hockey is a team game - the whole character seems to be a gigantic bore. Obviously, in the end the sports brat will learn to play as a team member.
Thankfully the British leave and there is more chaos when the Muslim players leave the team and go to Pakistan. the sudden change of the players' hearts seems very fake and you know the film has shattered by a wrecking ball called patriotism.
Tapan Das has to recreate the team as you step out and get another coffee. This time Samrat reappears to help the team and you facepalm several times at the training and team building efforts which you have seen in every sports film ever! The daftest thing is the setting: the team stays at Buddhist caves (Kanheri caves), but your disbelief is suspended so much you don't care to ask why monks would own a hockey field.
The super pouty lips of the TV show Naagin Mouni Roy do nothing for her Monobina (Mrs Tapan Das) who makes you sigh into your popcorn when she nags and nags her husband and then coyly handa her jewellery to be pawned because she loves hockey too. For a cricket mad nation (currently) to show hockey crazy kids and entire villages listening to hockey commentary seems odd. However, you cannot not compare all half time speeches to the one Shah Rukh makes to the indian girls hockey team in a sports film which is perhaps the best of our times. In Gold, everything seems to be an also ran.
Thanks to more cliched political machinations of the federation, the team finally reaches London for the 1948 Olympics, where they meet Pakistan Captain Imtiaz Shah (played by Vineet Kunar Singh from Mukkabaaz) who was a part of the joint team that won in 1936. Imtiaz mouths the 1936 team promise: we are here to avenge 200 years of slavery and to hear our national anthem when our flag is hoisted.
Yes, there are more 'game' cliches and you discover like in all sports films, the referees will be biased against India (and Pakistan) and despite all odds, team India will win, and the 'foreign' audience will cheer for India because they are 'true sports fans'. The clever play on the field has been choreographed by Sandip Singh (whose life has been made into a biopic recently called Soorma) and the unique play in the rains is a welcome relief from the tedious sports movie story.
The winning feeling is ruined because the director chooses to end with a National Anthem being played, which forces the audience to stand up and watch the triumphant team watch the flag with pride. Of course they want you to be overwhelmed and cry. But this brand of patriotism makes you wish this was Chak De! India rerun instead.
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