Gold: The Trap of Technicolor Patriotism
Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019) writes for this week’s edition of our fortnightly column, Movies with Megha.
Gold is a decent one-time watch. Not the least because it has both Amit Sadh and Kunal Kapoor, both of whom are quite snack worthy (the former might just replace Vicky Kaushal in my list of snacks). There’s also Akshay Kumar playing a loser – yes you heard that right – and not some macho police officer/secret agent/misguided navy official turned-murderer for the first time in ages. I’d almost forgotten how endearing he can be in his Hera Pheri/Housefull mode.
Anyway a brief summary: Gold is a fictionalized version of the first gold medal that Independent India’s hockey team won in the Olympics. The movie begins in the 1936 Berlin Olympics – where apparently Adolf Hitler had made a speech denouncing the cause of Indian Independence. While I understand the maker’s need to show him as a ho-ho, Evil Despot, I found this false narrative of how Hitler was in favour of colonialism kind of jarring given the legends about his assistance to Subhash Chandra Bose – but I suppose the Indian nationalist link with Nazi Germany is a boundary no Bollywood writer is brave enough to push (just like how nobody talks about the Hindu right having links with the Raj. Lul.) The movie also shows Hitler walking away in typical frustrated Bollywood firangi style when India wins the match which is again kind of weird given that he apparently had major respect for Major Dhyan Chand (who has been renamed ‘Samrat’ in this movie and is played by the extremely dishy Kunal Kapoor…like hmmmm) and even offered him a job, but whatever, I suppose you can’t make a Indian sports film without making an evil caricature out of every white person in the movie.
The rest of the movie is about how Tapan Kumar Das, the manager of the team, spears them to victory 12 years, 1 World War and 1 Partition later, in the 1948 London Olympics. Das, played by Kumar, is an alcoholic and an embezzler – which is why the shock that Akshay Kumar took up this role because, to be honest, apart from his patriotism and his love for hockey, there’s not much to love about the guy unless you’re into the whole bamboozling drunkard thing. Also his fake Bengali accent is extremely annoying, and I’m a Gujju, I can’t even imagine how irritating it would be for a real Bong. The real heroine of the film in that sense should have been Mounabina, his long-suffering wife who for some reason keeps mortgaging her jewels to finance his dreams for the Indian hockey team. But then I forget that this was 1940’s India and women didn’t really have much control over their money and assets once they got married (no comments on whether India in 2018 is the same).
Gold is also unconventional in the sense that it’s been written and directed by a female director, and has only 2 prominent female characters in the film, both of whom essay love interests – because it’s an Akshay Kumar film at the end of the day, duh – about a team of 20 odd hockey players. In that sense it’s just a gender reversal of Chak de India, right up to the bitchy internal team dynamics. I suppose in a way it’s funny to see a film about how boys aren’t exactly the exemplars of teamwork and maturity. Our resident Regina George is Kunwar Raghubir Pratap Singh, played by Amit Sadh, who is, hmm, dishyyy. Like there is Vicky Kaushal who is Snack and then there is Prince…Disshyyy. Anyway, Kunwarji is a typical rich spoilt brat who thinks he’s the bestest centre forward eva, but unfortunately faces competition from our resident UnderdogTM, Himmat Singh. The conflict between the two forms the main tension point of the film.
One thing I liked about Gold that it was more forthcoming about the caste angle than say a Dhadak, which released earlier this year. In one of the initial confrontation scenes, Mean Boy tells the Underdog ‘Thakur hain hum. Why should I need to explain anything to you?’ That scene speaks volumes. Thakursahab has servants accompanying him wherever he goes and is too delicate to pick up his own luggage. The captain of the team is a Brahmin. The ‘villagers’ are made to sit on the bench; though the film says it’s for strategic reasons. However, even assuming this is true, nobody bothers to explain to Himmat, right till the end, why he’s being made to wait till he gets a chance to play. Whereas everyone takes maximum effort to make sure Kunwarji’s precious princely ego is not hurt. Tapan especially is ingratiating towards the prince’s character and tries to soothe his pride even when the senior players are trying to knock sense into him. Kunal Kapoor, who is coaching the team, also observes that the players are unable to develop team spirit because of their regional biases. The scene where Tapan and Samrat see the players dining and socializing separately reminded me a lot of law school, and how we end up bunching off into cliques that are determined by class/caste more than we realize.
Another one of Gold’s plus points is that it addresses the Partition without demonizing the Muslim/Pakistani characters. I would have been seriously mad if they would have made a film on post-independence without bringing in Partition. In fact, the film acknowledges the tragedy that the best players of the pre-Independence era are forced to flee and adopt the flag of another nation, and then play the Indian team as rivals barely 2 years later.
However Gold’s biggest flaw is that it merely checkboxes these issues without dwelling on them any further. At the end of the day, it’s a film helmed by an A list star, and hence it ends up focusing too much on Akshay Kumar’s character to develop the other plotlines. We don’t see the full extent of trauma that a person compelled to change their nationality, and their home, because of religion would have to undergo. We also don’t see the conflict between Mean Boy and Underdog resolved completely – it’s stretched till a point where I was like, oh just kiss and hook up already! And then when they do patch up, it’s a ripoff of the football match scene from Student of the Year – you don’t have to watch the latter scene if you haven’t, but suffice to say, borrowing plot points from KJo films may not be the best cinematic writing exercise. I say this in spite of my love for trashy Dharma films. It’s also extremely jarring to see them fight after Dishy Coach has already made them do team unity exercises and even gives Mean Boy an extremely convenient anecdote from his own experience on how teamwork helps you win. (of course, the anecdote ends up repeating itself when Mean Boy and Underdog finally become ‘bros’).
It’s also sad how for a film written and directed by a woman, it barely passes the Lamp Test-another pitfall of being bankrolled by an A-lister I guess. The only role women have to play in the film is psychological support. As mentioned earlier, the role of Akshay Kumar’s wife, like his wife in the 100 cop movies he did prior to this, is only there to cook for him and his team, be patient and wear beautiful sarees and have her hair and makeup on point even when he’s getting drunk and pawning her jewels. UnderdogTM has a girlfriend, but her role is limited to being a copy of Sonam Kapoor’s in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – the Penelope to his Odysseus, waiting for her sports hero boyfriend to come home. I suppose the only point of the track is to show that people had more liberty in their love life 70 years ago than now.
The most uncomfortable moment in the film for me was when the national anthem plays in the end. Regardless of the legal position on this issue, it’s impossible to not feel like a pariah if you’re the only person sitting when the entire theatre stands, so I stood too. However the film (and this moment) really made me think – is this all what nationalism is about? All said and done the film shows a group of men trying to let go of their prejudices for the team. I wonder how many of us in our own lives are willing to let go of our silly little biases and do something for the country? Cuz if you aren’t then you’re just a technicolor patriot and there’s no difference between you and aunty-national sickular libtards like me who believe a ‘nation’ is an abstract concept and who need to be sent to the neighbouring country. Lul.
Next up on MwM: Shanaya ka Sairat Dhadak. Special MM Koffee hamper to whoever can guess where the ‘Luls’ are borrowed from.