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Gold: The Dream That United Our Nation, India 2018

Posted by keith1942 on August 25, 2018

This is a newly released Hindi-language film centred on India’s Olympic hockey teams. It is in colour and widescreen and it features the usual songs and dances found in popular ‘Bollywood’ cinema. The film dramatises, with a certain amount of fictionalisation, India’s performances in two Olympic Games, 1936 and 1948. India won the Men’s Title on both occasions, but in 1936 it was as ‘British India’ whilst in 1948 it was as the newly Independent India.

So the film is a celebration of India’s liberation from British colonial rule through the vehicle of sporting achievement. Appropriately its release in India was on August 15th, Independence Day. It has been very successful there, becoming the thirds highest opener of the year so far.

The story is recounted by the Indian team manager Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), so effectively the whole film is in flashback. It opens in Berlin in 1936. Demeaning comments by Adolf Hitler regarding Indian independence has led to protests, so the Indian team arriving for a final against Germany is heavily guarded. Two protesters successfully raise the flag of an ‘Independent’ India, shouting ‘revolution’. Rather re-markedly Das and the Indian team seem little involved in the Independence movement, by then a national-wide crusade. But trailing badly, at the intermission Das, who has purloined the flag when the protesters are arrested and beaten, reveals it to inspire the team. In a notable turn-about they go on to win 8-1. But as the flag of British India is raised at the Award ceremony accompanied by ‘God Save the King’, Das is moved to promise himself that one day it will be an Independent Indian Flag and Anthem.

World War II suspends the Olympics until 1948. After the war is over Britain is forced to grant Independence. Now Das can fulfil his promise. But, of course, dramatically this requires conflict. A whole series of obstacles stand in the way and hinder Indian hockey’s progress to a Gold Medal. Nearly all of these are internal to India and Indian Hockey. Whilst we see quite amount of competition hockey it is not the actual playing that offers the main obstacle. And from the start of the film, or at least from the moment of Das’s promise, the audience can expect Indian victory. The drama lies in the road to that victory.

First Das has to overcome his indulgence in alcohol, used by a rival to undermine him. His wife Monobina (Muni Roy) is important here. Then Das tours India to find a team of new skilled players. A key figure here is Imtiaz Shah (Vineet Kumar Singh), not only a hockey player but also a member of the Indian National Army. Imtiaz is to be captain. However, another obstacle arises, Partition. We see Imtiaz set upon by a Hindu mob and his house is gutted. Thus five important members of the term leave for Pakistan and Das has to start again. When he has assembled a new team he has to find a training facility; right through the film it is private money from wealthy supporters that funds the project. Das finds a Buddhist Community that seems ideal. When he puts his request to the Head of the Monastery he mentions of Samrat (Kunal Kapoor, captain and star of the 1936 team). The abbot reveals he is a hockey fan as he breaks a five year-long silence to utter the name of his hero, Samrat.

But the training is disrupted by class and communal rivalries. The players, all from different provinces, fall into closed groups. And a key player, Prince Raghubir Pratap Singh (Amit Sadh), is more interested in scoring for himself than playing as part of a team. Das and Samrat resolve this in part through team building exercises. But, after a party to celebrate the announcement of the National Team, Das performs a drunken song and dance and is expelled from the National Hockey League.

Once in London the team suffer from the machinations of the British Imperial Hockey Association, who place India and Pakistan [also a strong side] in the same knock-out opening section. Whilst the team’s rivalries resurface, Das is called to save the day. Joining forces with the Pakistan management they force the British to change the listings. Nevertheless the British team succeed in beating Pakistan in a semi-final and the final confrontation between Independent India and colonial Britain is set up. But the simmering disputes in the team resurface. In particular, a star player Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal), has a fight with Raghubir.

In the interval of the final India are trailing Britain 1.0. Repeating his performance of 1936 Das lectures the team whilst unfurling the flag he claimed that day. Revitalised the team return to the field and score four goals to take the title. Das and the team stand proudly as the newly independent Indian flag is raised to the new Indian anthem.

The 1948 team’s departure

The film thus offers a paean to the Independence Movement. It is not especially focussed on a particular strand in the broad movement. The INA is referenced and we see Gandhi in some of the wartime newsreels featured in[in their correct academy ratio. But is a generalised independence movement: unlike Rangoon (2017), unashamedly committed to the INA. In the same way both class and communalism are factors in the narrative but the film tends to treat these also in a generalised manner. Interestingly the only example of the communalism at Partition is that inflicted on Imtiaz, a Muslim. We doe not see attacks on Hindus. As the title suggests, the film’s narrative addresses particular social conflicts in contemporary India. When we reach the final the issue between Himmat and Raghubir is class based; but Himmat is portrayed as lower down the social scale but not in any specific class character.

The British are represented as a superior-minded elite but they are not vilified: the Nazis are far nastier. The British clearly stoop to manipulation and do not play the game as ‘cricket’. At a meeting where they British Hockey management gloat over the effects of Partition on the hockey team the |leading member notes that they should thank Lord Mountbatten. These are an elite and Das’s problems in India are partly due to the Indian elite. One interesting aspect are the ‘ordinary’ spectators, both in 1936 and 1948. In Berlin as the Indian team make their come-back the crowd cheer and start to support the Indians. The same happens in London as the British crowd respond to the courage and skill of the Indian players.

This is a masculine movie. The only substantial female character is Monobina. She is an important factor in the story, helping to motivate Das. And when the training camp is organised it is she that runs the meals, rather like an NCO, purchasing supplies, supervising the cooking and the mealtimes. We do see women in the crowds and at the social events. And they are noticeable in the song and dance numbers. These, like the film, are in period costume but stylistically they are similar to the modern ‘Bollywood’ song and dance, though much briefer. Neither Monobina nor Das age noticeably in the decade between the two Olympics. The film is not especially concerned with realism in that sense; just as in Berlin whilst one character is clearly Adolf Hitler [storming off in a huff] he is not that physically similar to the leader.

The key figure in the production seems to be Akshay Kumar, a major star in Indian cinema. He it was who made the first announcement of the production. He does not have a listing as a producer but he enjoys the prime focus in the film. The film uses Yorkshire for British locations and mainly the Punjab for those in India. As far as history goes the film would appear to diverge considerably from the record of events. Whilst the listed score for the 1936 Olympics is 8-1, that for the 1948 Olympic final is 4-0, [rather than the 4-1 score in the film]. Moreover, neither Himmat nor Raghubir appear as players in the actual team. Interestingly India and Pakistan have been the dominant teams in this Olympic sport. Women’s hockey only started at the 1980 Olympics.

This is definitely a mainstream film but it is also a national drama. Thus it falls between the dominant cinema and First or national cinema. Whilst Rangoon is wildly fantastic and uses history as and adjunct to the melodrama that film also has a more specific and more direct representation of the radical Independence Movement. This film stays safely in the conformist history of Indian’s fight for freedom.

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