An aristocrat (Amit Sadh), who excels at the game but is too smug to realise why he must not exert his privileges on the field.
A hot-tempered Sardar (Sunny Kaushal) lad blessed with extraordinary talent frustrated by his under-utilisation and internal politics.
Gold has three noteworthy stories to tell. Yet, it sidelines their potential to say something pertinent about a freshly freed country, its hopes and uncertainties, to focus on a drunkard manager’s flimsy contribution in Independent India’s victory at the 1948 Olympics.
Tapan Das or Tuppen, as he likes to pronounce it, is nursing a dream since 1936 after his hockey team got gold for British India before an elated crowd that includes a world-famous German tyrant (more like Bertie Wooster with a toothbrush moustache).
A decade goes by as India becomes free from British rule, Pakistan is born and World War II cancels the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. In this time, a disappointed Tapan has taken to the bottle and bets against wrestlers.When he finally lands an opportunity to put together his dream hockey team with star player-turned-coach (Kunal Kapoor), a surly senior creates problems for no legitimate reason.
Director Reema Kagti, who put together a quirky ensemble in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and combined sorrow and supernatural so sublimely in Talaash, struggles to give her distinct voice to Gold‘s wishy-washy complexity. As a consequence, Tapan’s disillusionment feels exaggerated and grating.
Nationalistic fervour is pretty much thrust upon him after the tricolored flag fortuitously lands in his hands. But since those hands belong to Akshay Kumar, rest assured, it shall not be taken lightly.
Bollywood’s go-to crusader reminds us repeatedly of his plans to avenge ‘Do sau saal ki ghulami‘ by speaking in a jarring accent that is clearly more Bollywood than Bangla, breaking into a dhoti-clad bhangra as though he’s confused Gold for Singh is Bling while being a hockey hero from the sidelines. It is a sloppily written role performed with equal ineptitude, a rare misstep from the actor, who hardly gets it wrong anymore no matter how partisan or embarrassing the contents.
As Gold grows into a timeworn underdog tale, the British emerge as the unanimous bad guys having changed their objective from divide and rule to divide and defeat.
It is nice to see Kagti remembers that India and Pakistan break up is too recent to view its common enemy differently. It gives the climatic scene’s communal cheer a heartrending unity, years before it would be looked upon as romantic idealism in Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Barring these little details, her recreation of the era feels more postcard than living. Gold‘s glossy, sepia toned rendition of retro revelries is fancy, but the contemporary energy they betray is telling of how accurate the endeavour is. Characters are dressed in vintage, set designs throws in the decade appropriate props and knick-knacks, but one never gets a sense of those times or the wave of patriotism it so conveniently whips up to suit its purpose.
Gold‘s other issue is the game it builds itself around. Hockey isn’t a visually exciting game for everybody. Unless its stakes and soul are smartly and shrewdly woven into the narrative like Chak De! India, viewers are unlikely to invest.
Half-hearted depiction of the sport, a moment of epiphany to showcase barefoot bravado and starstruck fan following of a former legend among Buddhist monks do very little to promote its cause. The only thing Gold borrows from Shimit Amin’s deeply layered classic is the Sabharwal-Chautala rivalry.
Luckily for Kagti, her supporting cast stands her in good stead and does well in bringing out the vulnerability and ambition of their characters. If only they’d get a little more screen time.
At 150 minutes though, Gold digresses too often to accommodate a bizarre episode of Amit Sadh’s philanthropy, Mouni Roy’s domestic chatter and heavy-handed federation politics.
It is only when Gold moves away from Akshay Kumar’s blundering Bangla and hockey humbug to become a story of grace among go-getters that it comes close to becoming the movie it should have been.
And then the national anthem plays and manipulation wins once again.