Stree director Amar Kaushik says he’s made a ‘desi’ horror film with conviction: I find ghost stories fascinating

Amar Kaushik, the debutant director of Rajkummar Rao-Shraddha Kapoor’s Stree was very clear that he wanted to start his career with a rare genre – horror comedy. There are many directors who helm rom-coms or action-thrillers, which he considers to be safe. But that isn’t the only reason why Kaushik chose to direct a horror comedy. It’s also because he’s always found ghost stories intriguing and fascinating.

“I vividly remember, many years ago I was told about this challenge: whoever was able to watch Bees Saal Baad (Waheeda Rehman-Biswajeet’s horror film from 1962) alone in a theatre will get a reward,” recalls Kaushik.

Then, a short visit to a “ghost” town called Chanderi further ignited his passion. “I grew up in Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh). When I was in graduation first year, I was passing by this small town Chanderi. It was around 10 pm and I checked-in into a hotel. It was dark and nobody was seen around outside the hotel. I was terrified. Something about the place stayed with me,” says the director.

“Later,” he continues, “when we started researching shooting locations for Stree, I felt it should be somewhere in Central India. I thought of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh and then I suddenly remembered my Chanderi experience. Once I went there for my recce, I was convinced about the location. It was as if every scene was tailor made for the film and I insisted on shooting in the most spooky locations. I deliberately chose those locations, the ones we were warned from frequenting by the local people. I wanted the actors to get really scared during the shoot. I deliberately shot at midnight. That has really worked,” says Kaushik, who claims to have made a “desi” horror film with conviction.

Also read: Rajkummar Rao on Stree co-star Shraddha Kapoor: She was supposed to do my debut film Kai Po Che

“We usually read stories, or watch movies that show an old, isolated, dilapidated haunted house situated in the mountains, or in some secluded spot. But the ghost in my film is very basic. We have used little bit of VFX but otherwise all the action scenes are real. I didn’t want too much of technology. Also, sound in a thriller or horror is quite important but music need not be very loud. Silence can also be effective,” he adds.

Starting his career as an assistant director, Kaushik was a part of the Rajiv Khandelwal-starrer Aamir (2008). Working with accomplished directors in the industry, he was also a part of Sorry Bhai (2008), I Am (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), Go Goa Gone (2013), Fukrey (2013), Ghanchakkar (2013), and Beyond the Clouds (2017). After years of playing second fiddle, he finally made his directorial debut with a short film Aaba (2017), which was the only award winning Indian short film at Berlin International Film Festival, in 2017.

Kaushik considers himself to be lucky to cast Rajkummar and Shraddha Kapoor for his first feature. “Raj and I would often meet during film festivals and when I had to choose an actor for the character Vicky (in Stree) it had to be Raj. When I told him that he was playing a tailor’s part, his immediate reaction was, ‘Okay, send a sewing machine to my house, I will learn tailoring’. For diction, he just needed one month and a teacher. Raj makes your work easy,” says Kaushik, further adding, “I wanted a girl with that small town innocence and Shraddha fitted the brief. The fact is, established actors are realising that new directors are coming up with fresh ideas. There is no pressure on us about our previous or next film. We concentrate on just one project, the one that is in front of us.”

Also read: Shraddha Kapoor on Stree co-stars Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi: ‘Huge fan of their work’

The film’s promotions attracted a lot of attention particularly because of its unique teaser and posters that said: ‘Mard ko dard hoga…Stree aa rahi hai’.

“‘Mard ko dard hoga’ is not just the tag line. In the movie we talk everything related to that. In small towns, girls are told to come home early in the evening. We have changed all of that by saying – ‘Boys, don’t leave the house late night, strees (women) are roaming around, they will take you with them’. In the film, we tell boys to come out wearing a saree and bangles to stay safe,” he explains.

Jimmy Sheirgill on Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi: It’s always fun doing light hearted roles

The more than two decades of experience in Bollywood has helped Jimmy Sheirgill devise his own tactics to ward of filmmakers who offer him bad scripts or scripts that are ‘potent’ enough to make him sleep. “Whenever a script fails to excite me, I often use a line that I’ve devised for such situations: Samajh mein nahi aaya (I didn’t get it).”

The actor often keeps a coffee mug handy to keep him awake during such occasions lest the boredom make him snooze. Jimmy also reveals another scheme he employs when he is subjected to narration of below par scripts: Telling the narrator about what could happen next. Thankfully, the script of Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi didn’t give him the chance to resort to any of his tricks when Mudassar Aziz was narrating.

Jimmy Sheirgill in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi. Image via Twitter/@BollywoodAajTak

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Jimmy is dubbed as the soul of Happy Bhag Jayegi, the film which offered ample doses of laughter when it released in 2016. The actor is all set to reprise the role of the jilted lover cum failed politician in its sequel, Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi. Though this time, the happenings are rooted in China and not Punjab. Has the actor developed some affinity towards comedy? “It’s always fun doing light-hearted roles and HPBJ was another great experience. But comedy apart, any role that’s sketched out and written well on paper, is always fun to do. If it’s not written well then however hard you may try, you simply can’t do anything to enhance it. Even if the role involves just four or five scenes and is well written, it’s bound to leave an impact,” says Jimmy.

The decision to make a sequel to HBJ was serendipitous for the film’s director Mudassar Aziz. The go-ahead for the initial idea of a sequel, apart from its producer Aanand L Rai, also came from Jimmy. As per the actor, Mudassar, after the release of HBJ, was busy working on another script and would often meet Aanand L Rai for jam sessions.

It was during one of those sessions that Mudassar came up with an idea with China as the premise and told Rai that if the thought were to be sketched further, it had all the potential to become the sequel of HBJ. Later on, the director also met Jimmy to get his views and it was only after Jimmy showed his excitement, more than the producer, project HPBJ was greenlit.

There have been instances in the past when sequels have failed to work as much as the original. When the plan to make a sequel of HBJ was being mooted, were there any voices that said that it should be left at the first film only? “Well, the most difficult thing about sequels is that they are often compared with their previous films. To be honest, there were no such voices but there is always this nervousness. With a sequel, you want to reach out to the same people and yet maintain the same integrity with which you brought the first film alive. The minute you try to tell them that just because your first film was a success, you are giving a bigger canvas to the second film, it starts to depict dishonesty.” Jimmy emphatically mentions that if the producers were really trying to make the sequel big, so to speak, then there would have never been a trailer that’s so heavily based on the antics of Bagga and Afridi.

The mention of dishonesty also reminds one of the box office debacle of Jimmy’s last flick Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3. It was a film that tried to milk the persona of Sanjay Dutt rather than telling more about the world of Saheb and Biwi. “The biggest flaw that transpired with SBG 3 was the fact that in part one and two, there was this world of Saheb and Biwi which could ensnare any outsider. The evil world of the couple was the biggest attraction for audiences and it was hardly there in part three,” admits Jimmy.

Jimmy has often been part of films when his character has fared better than the main protagonist, often played by a bigger star. Most of the reviews for SBG 3 said that he was better than Sanjay Dutt in the film. “I have no interest in overshadowing any star. It’s only the final goal, that a picture should run, counts. I have been hearing such things for years. I am just a normal actor and when the result is reflected in box office figures, then it gives us hope that something new will come along.” Jimmy recalls of a conversation he recently had with Luv Ranjan, director of films like Pyar Ka Punchnama and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. “He had told me that giving a 100 cr film with established stars is no big deal. The real fun lies in achieving the same figure with newcomers or good actors. Whenever the idea of me getting the better of other actors is mentioned, most of the producers either take a U-turn from my home or pull me out of their film,” he concludes.

After Soorma’s success, Chitrangada Singh to reportedly produce biopic on disabled South Indian swimmer

Mumbai: Chitrangada Singh, who turned producer with Soorma, is all set to back yet another inspiring story of a sports personality.

Through Soorma, she brought the heartwarming story of hockey player and former captain of the Indian national team, Sandeep Singh, who was accidentally hit by a gun shot in a train in 2006, on the big screen.

Chitrangada Singh. Image via Instagram

According to sources, Chitrangada, 41, is exploring a film based on the life of a disabled swimmer.

“She is intrigued by the a story of disabled sports lady who has done so much for the country. She is a swimmer who hails from the South. We are in talks. Biopics do take time as you have to take permission and all” a source close to the development told PTI.

Talking about the trend of biopics, Chitrangada had earlier told PTI, “I am totally in favour of biopics. True stories must be told to the people. If you tell it well, it does work.”

She was last seen in Sanjay Dutt starrer Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3.

Her next release is Bazaar that features Saif Ali Khan in the lead. The film, directed by Gaurav Chawla, is about the world of stock markets and trading and Saif plays a street smart Gujarati businessman.

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi movie review: Sonakshi Sinha leads charge with gusto in a pleasantly silly comedy

Happy Bhag Jayegi was the sleeper hit of 2016, a comedy revolving around an Amritsari bride who runs away from her wedding to marry the man she loves, but lands up in the home of a stranger – a Pakistani politician – by mistake. Diana Penty was luminous as the eponymous leading lady of that film, which, despite its insubstantial plot and flagging second half, managed to be funny all the same. She reprises her role in a cameo in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi even as it diverts its gaze to another Punjabi girl called Harpreet aka Happy, this one played by Sonakshi Sinha.

Writer-director Mudassar Aziz appears to have taken the feedback on his previous venture to heart. Happy Part 2 not only remains largely amusing if you can excuse a few waning patches here and there, the writing of its characters and the plot also have more substance than Part 1. Of course it is a parade of non-stop nonsense, but how does it hurt to get a fit of the giggles in a film that yet does not insult your intelligence and heads off in directions that Bollywood rarely bothers with, especially in comedy?

Diana Penty and Sonakshi Sinha in a still from Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi. YouTube

For a start, it is nice to once again meet a heroine not helplessly hanging around waiting for a man, any man, to bachao (save) her when she is trapped in trying circumstances. This Happy is a combustible woman and like that Happy takes matters into her own hands when the going gets tough.

There’s more where she came from. How often do we get to see a Hindi film featuring a turbanned Sikh as a major character without the screenplay being packed with Bhangra and cries of “balle balle”, without the guy in question being loud and boisterous, and sans sermons about Sikh valour or traditions of service to others? Representation should not be about pedestalising minority communities, but about acknowledging their existence in big and small ways without feeling compelled to create a shindig around an individual’s religious or ethnic identity.

So yeah, we have Khushwant Singh Gill (played by the very likeable Jassie Gill) who is recruited to Happy’s team in a foreign country, without so much as a balle balle or a lecture about Sikhism. Then there is the Lahori cop Usman Afridi (Piyush Mishra) and the Amritsari thug-politician Daman Singh Bagga (Jimmy Sheirgill), carryovers from Happy Bhag Jayegi, still sparring over Urdu and Pakistan in a still engaging and still inoffensive fashion. Yeah, a Pakistani character who is not belittled or demonised in this era of crude, in-your-face nationalism that India is passing through and Bollywood is pandering to. Imagine that.

The trickiest part of Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi is that it is set in China, which would have been an excuse to make lazy racist jokes in most Bollywood films, but not here. Aziz walks a fine line – a clever line – by allowing his characters to be racist as they would be in real life, while using their prejudice to throw a spotlight on the “all Chinese look alike” attitude of the average insular Indian who resorts to the dismissive umbrella labels “Cheeni” and “chinky” for people of the entire geographical region extending from our own north-eastern states all the way to Japan. Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi’s humour incorporates consequences that the primary characters suffer for their insularity and ignorance. This is done mainly through the medium of the gangster Chang played by Jason Tham.

None of this is spelt out in black and white, nor is the normalisation of a gay romance in a brief passage that eschews Dostana-style jokes completely. In a film where you least expect it, we are thus reminded without anyone overtly saying so, that homosexuals, cross dressers, Pakistanis, the Chinese, Punjabis and women – groups that are usually stereotyped in Hindi cinema – are all just regular people.

Jassie Gill, Sonakshi Sinha and Jimmy Shiergill in a still from Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi

 

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi could still have done with more work on its writing and direction – the songs (barring the remix of the appropriately chosen classic, ‘Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu’) are ordinary and feel superfluous, there are places in the narrative where the energy dips (which is inexcusable in a comedy), the manner in which a fellow called Fa in Shanghai is introduced seems to suggest that he will be a significant player among Happy’s allies but then he inexplicably disappears for most of the film, and the sidelining of Diana Penty’s Happy feels like such an opportunity lost considering the spark this underrated, under-utilised actor showed in the first Happy.

Truth be told, I was really looking forward to more scenes with Sinha and Penty together, because though Sinha is the bigger star, Penty has the charisma to match. Where she does get screen space in Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi, Penty gives us evidence of her innate verve, which adds to the disappointment on this front.

Sinha’s filmography so far has been dominated by crass big-banner ventures often trivialising sexual harassment and starring major male stars, in which she played the hero’s lover who could have been played by any other marginal female star. She has underlined her ability to be more than just a vapid sidelight and in fact to carry a story on her shoulders in films such as Lootera, Noor and Ittefaq. Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi gives her the chance to tap her comic timing and she does so with gusto, leading the charge in an ensemble cast of gifted actors. Piyush Mishra is as hilarious as he was last time. Sheirgill gets more opportunities here to mine his flair for comedy and is good too. And Gill is, without question, hero material.

Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi is not without flaws, but they are overshadowed by the absence of references to farts, poop and animal backsides, homophobia, misogyny and other ugly biases that have repeatedly reared their heads in the kind of comedies Sinha herself has been a part of over the years. Pleasant and engaging is an option in this genre – thank you, Mr Aziz, for knowing that.

Note: This is not a Hindi film. The dialogues are a mix of Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and a spot of Mandarin (I think), with Punjabi dominating the conversations but not so much that a non-Hindi speaker would be lost.

5 weddings: Rajkummar Rao, Nargis Fakhri’s growing affection for one another is the highlight of second trailer

Rajkummar Rao and Nargis Fakhri’s 5 Weddings released a second trailer on 24 August. The narrative in 5 Weddings features Fakhri as an Indian origin American journalist whose boss promises her a promotion if she writes an ‘Indian-themed story’. The topic she is asked to cover is Indian weddings, which are one of the two things she claims to hate.

A still from the new trailer of 5 Weddings. YouTube screengrab

The trailer depicts Fakhri gradually warming up to Indian customs and ways of life, and most importantly her aide officer Harbhajan Singh (Rao). Rao’s character jokes with Shania (Fakhri) and teases her, and we see the journalist changing her opinion about the preconceived notions she had of the country.
5 Weddings is directed by Namrata Singh Gujral and also stars Academy Award nominee Candy Clark, Golden Globe nominee Bo Derek and Dutch-American actor Anneliese Van der Pol. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 10 May and will release on 21 September.

 

Gali Guleiyan editor Chris Witt says Manoj Bajpayee’s psychological thriller is a big screen experience

Oscar-nominated editor Chris Witt, known for his work in Kavi, The Unraveling and Catching Fireflies has edited the upcoming Manoj Bajpayee-starrer psychological horror film Gali Guleiyan and believes that the film is geared specifically towards the big screen.

Poster of Gali Guleiyan

The makers released the trailer of the film, alternatively titled In the Shadows, on 16 August 2018 carefully juxtaposed slow, winding shots of Old’s Delhi’s meandering lanes with the rapid, jagged shots of Manoj Bajpayee’s dishevelled state.

Chris,who was responsible for the editing of the discomfort-inducing trailer, spoke about his contribution to the film at its trailer launch “I’m proud to say this is my best work in over 20 years of editing! I’m super excited for the world to see Gali Guleiyan! Carefully crafting the performances of our ensemble cast, Gali Guleiyan gave me an opportunity to weave an intricate and unforgettable story that pushed me as an editor.”

Gali Guleiyan, written, directed and produced by debutant Dipesh Jain, is a combination of story as well as special effects. Chris said that the rhythms and pacing were so designed to give the audience an emotional ride, adding that the film is specifically geared towards watching at the theatre.

The film, produced by Shuchi Jain of Exstant Motion Pictures, will release in India and Worldwide on 7 September.

Manto trailer: Nawazuddin Siddiqui portrays the Urdu poet’s tribulations in a post-independent India

Nandita Das’ upcoming directorial Manto, which features Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the titular role, launched its trailer on Independence Day, 15 August. The narrative is clear from the well-shot video; an impassioned poet who fights to express what he feels, without fear.

The opening dialogue which Siddiqui’s Manto delivers in his patent sombre style, reverberates throughout the video, “Mein toh apni kahaniyon ko ek aina samajhta hun jisme samaaj apne aap ko dekh sakey (I consider my stories to be the mirror in which society sees itself).” He repeatedly asks why speaking up and saying the truth is wrong or something that ought to be curbed.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui essyas the role of in Nandita Das' biopic on the Urdu poet.

The narrative unfolds as Manto is forced to shift to Lahore. Kartik Vijay captures post-independent India and Lahore in subtle sepia which perfectly blends with the crises of that time.

Siddiqui oscillates from the mind of a creative genius to a vulnerable man torn by the country falling apart while intolerance is on a continuous rise.

Siddiqui’s voice looms heavy over the trailer, especially when he talks about the existential crisis faced by most of the youth just after Independence, “Jab ghulam the, tab aazadi ka khwab dekhte the, aur ab aazad hai toh kaunsa khwab dekhenge? (When we were enslaved, we dreamt of freedom, but now that we are free, what do we dream of?)”

Manto is scheduled to hit theatres on 21 September, 2018.

Mulk: Anubhav Sinha is among the growing breed of filmmakers who do not want to whitewash reality

In the first twenty minutes of Mulk, director Anubhav Sinha takes a dig at the Swachh Bharat campaign and the government’s demonetisation move. Blink for even a second and chances are, you might just miss the director’s disenchantment with the Centre’s policies and schemes. He goes a step further and attacks the issue of islamophobia. Mulk also ventures into a territory which many filmmakers shudder to think about – the perils of neo-nationalism. In other words, the film does not hesitate to call a spade a spade and shreds to pieces the government’s many theories. It’s a film that breaks stereotypes and conventions which hitherto had not been seen in Bollywood. Judging by the past record of such films, it is astonishing to see that it did not have to face the ire of the censor board. Mulk is a fine example of a growing breed of filmmakers who are determined not to whitewash reality.

Taapsee Pannu in a still from Mulk. Screenshot from YouTube.

Fanney Khan, another recent release, has a song very much in tune with the current government’s slogan for the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. Again, despite the hue and cry, the song ‘Mere Achhe Din Kab Aayenge’ featured in the final cut of the film. Netflix’s Sacred Games, helmed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap created ripples amongst the cadres of a certain political party when it mentioned Bofors. Congress took objection to the Netflix series for allegedly showing former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in poor light but Congress chief himself put a lid on the entire controversy when he came up with his own statement. Kashyap himself lauded Rahul Gandhi’s act and hailed his views. Despite the brouhaha, the objectionable scenes and the dialogue can still be seen on the streaming platform. The fact that here is a director who mentioned things about the Bofors scam and did not shy away from stating facts reflects subversive courage, one that is rare in the times of playing it safe territory.

Not so long ago, the superhit Tamil film Mersal criticised the government by raising questions on implementation of the GST. The government countered by declaring that the film portrayed ‘untruths’ about the central taxation scheme. Despite being cleared by the censor board, though the two and half minute sequence was later trimmed from the film, but not before it made everyone aware of the government’s attempt to thwart freedom of expression.

This change needs to be lauded and filmmakers should be given due credit for not kowtowing to the establishment. The change today is a far cry from the days when policies and the government itself were considered to be sacrosanct and their reflection on the screen required them to be in sync with the stated policies. If at all someone dared to swim against the tide, they were forcibly calmed down by just muttering the dreaded ‘censor’ word. One reason why filmmakers are embracing muted reality from the past and the current could be attributed to the influx of global content that an average viewer has now access to.

Showtime in the US can air an animated series called Our Cartoon President and The Looming Tower on Amazon can denounce the administrative decisions that led to the 9/11 attacks. No one blinks an eye and no furore is created. In other words, the mature level of content that the world is being exposed to is now seeping into India’s viewing appetites. The need to make Mulk arose from the fact that Anubhav was sick and tired hearing different interpretations of nationalism. “The definition of nationalism has become jingoistic, if you can shout louder then you are a nation lover. I wanted to change this notion.”

Last year, it was Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar that dug out an old chapter from Indian history – The Emergency, and did not hesitate in putting forth facts which were either omitted or conveniently altered to suit the vested interests of a certain group of people. Rajinikanth’s Kaala too touched upon a sensitive subject when it talked about caste politics. Udta Punjab had an ugly brush with the censor board but the fact that the film eventually saw the light of day in theatres despite revolving around the drug menace in Punjab – the very theme government and censor board objected to — can only be termed as a short-lived struggle by the makers who were associated with the film. Newton too took a dig at the way elections are conducted in remote areas. None of these films were stopped from getting screened in theatres.

Things which till now were swept under the carpet are now coming out in the open. The change is slow but it’s happening nonetheless. Apart from giving voice to filmmakers, social media too has made the world a smaller place. The very concept of living in isolation now exists no more. Filmmakers have now comprehended that stating facts is the way ahead and any attempt to dilute the truth will lead to the fear of getting exposed. A change is here and it should be commended and kudos to the authorities that have allowed this change to take place.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife Tahira Kashyap to debut as director with slice-of-life drama

Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife Tahira Kashyap will soon debut as a director with a slice-of-life drama set in Mumbai. Kashyap has previously helmed a short film Toffee, produced by Khurrana and casting director Mukesh Chhabra, according to Hindustan Times.

Ayushmann Khurrana with Tahira Kashyap. Twitter @Ayushmann_Team

The yet-to-be-titled film will be produced by T Series’ Bhushan Kumar and Ellipsis Entertainment’s Tanuj Garg and Atul Kasbekar. This project will mark the third collaboration between the production houses, after Suresh Triveni’s debut with Tumhari Sulu starring Vidya Balan and more recently, Soumik Sen’s second feature Cheat India with Emraan Hashmi in the lead.

A statement from the producers read: “Tahira has worn several hats…. from being the programming head of a radio station in the North to a theatre writer-director, author, teacher of mass communication and journalism, and short film-maker. Her incredible stories are rooted in realism and heart. We are delighted to back her debut journey and look forward to making many more movies with her.”

The casting for the upcoming film is ongoing and will be announced soon. The makers expect it to go into production in early 2019.

Meanwhile, Khurrana will be seen next as a visually impaired pianist in Sriram Raghavan’s (of Badlapur fame) neo-noir thriller Andhadhun. The film also stars Radhika Apte and Tabu in pivotal roles.

Gold movie review: Akshay Kumar-starrer’s penchant for overstatement overshadows its few moments of moving quiet

Chak De! India is arguably the gold standard for any contemporary Hindi film hoping to use sport as a showcase for this country’s complex multi-cultural landscape. Gender politics, a factious nation’s religious and regional tensions, and the inevitability of inter-personal rivalries in a team game all found a place in Shimit Amin’s fabulous 2007 film about the Indian women’s hockey team at the turn of the century finding its oxygen under a new coach, yet it appeared not to strain a nerve to sermonise. Chak De! is a hard act to follow.

Director Reema Kagti’s Gold sets itself on the same playing field — hockey, this time for men — but shifts its gaze to a period stretching from 1936 pre-Independence India to the first Olympics we played after the British left our shores. India, as we know from history texts, dominated world hockey for several decades back then. Cobbling a team together for the 1948 Olympics was a challenging task, however, for a fictional team manager called Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar), with Partition having robbed us of many of our great sporting talents. In this scenario, Tapanda battles his own alcoholism and a cynical hockey establishment, in addition to the parochial and class divisions within the team to get free India a gold, not so much for sporting glory and self realisation but to take revenge on our former colonisers.

Akshay Kumar in a still from Gold. Image via Twitter

In the tradition of several Akshay Kumar films of the past 3-4 years, Kagti — who earlier made the neatly irreverent Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd and the wonderfully mellow Talaash — goes full throttle into loud, chest-thumping nationalist territory for Gold. If a point has to be made, it is spelt out not once but repeatedly. If a personal experience has to be a source of inspiration for a brainwave on the hockey field, the dialogue from the earlier moment must be replayed, on the assumption perhaps that viewers are not bright enough to get the hint from the proceedings on screen. If two characters are going to be at war in the dressing room, then their potential clash is announced through a long song that stresses and re-stresses and further stresses their class differences, just in case the audience did not quite get it from the initial indicators of one chap’s evident wealth and the other’s evident lack of it. And when the national anthem plays in a scene that is truly and unexpectedly moving, the emotional resonance of the turn of events that preceded it is not deemed enough, the film’s patriotic fervour has to be underlined with a fluorescent marker in the form of one man — you can guess who — shouting “Vande Mataram.”

It is hard to understand why a filmmaker as gifted as Kagti could not see that there is melodrama and great beauty intrinsic to the story of a newly Independent and poor nation winning a hockey Olympic gold for the first time under its own flag. The failure to recognise this is Gold’s Achilles heel. When Kagti does manage to weave some moments of quiet into the larger tapestry of overstatement she is working on — such as that scene in which the team first realises they will be ripped apart by Partition, or the dynamics in the bar fight which almost destroys Team India, or the warmth between the former teammates turned rivals from India and Pakistan at Olympics 1948, and most of all the two hockey matches that dominate the closing half hour. These are the scenes in which we get to see what Gold could have been if it had not underestimated its audience or been overly anxious to cash in on the raucous, aggressive patriotism dominating the current national discourse.

Kagti has saved her best for Gold’s last 30 minutes, during which, despite all the film’s follies, I found myself cheering for the Indian team and welling up with emotion for them.

Of the cast, Sunny Kaushal and Amit Sadh play the only hockey players who are well fleshed out in the writing. The excellent Vineet Kumar Singh takes on the role of Imtiaz Ali Shah, captain of the undivided Indian team, giving his character far more heft than the screenplay affords. Akshay Kumar gets the most screen time, of course, as manager-cum-talent scout-cum-coach-cum-everything to the team, but delivers an awkward, uninspired performance in which his effort to be Bengali overshadows all else.

The oddest part of Gold is the fictionalisation of the hockey players who in reality won India a gold at the 1948 Olympics. Dhyan Chand and his teammates are all part of sporting legend in India, yet for some reason, instead of using the names of these men who did us proud and bringing their characters to life, we get made up names and characters based on their experiences in Gold instead. Yelling out “Vande Mataram” on screen can hardly compensate for this disservice to these great men.

Gold has its occasional redeeming moments, but for the most part it just skims the surface of a landscape once examined with such depth by Chak De! India.