In 1948, India was only a newborn. Overwhelmed with its newly found independence and reeling from the aftermath of World War II and a horridly mismanaged partition, Indians should have been given a medal solely for being able to field 11 players on the hockey pitch.
The 1948 London Olympics would see the Indian hockey team compete for their first medal as a free nation. And given how India would mark the beginning of their arch-rivalry with Pakistan and take on their former colonial rulers on their home turf, made the competition all the more significant, and the victory more poetic.
Captained by Kishan Lal, and featuring stars like Leslie Claudius and Balbir Singh – the squad won a record 4th gold medal (the previous three medals were won under the British Raj), bringing much deserved joy to a country in disarray. But it wasn’t just the things that took place on the pitch that made the tournament dramatic, but also things off it.
Balbir Singh, who scored 6 goals in India’s 8-1 victory against Argentina, was immediately dropped from the team during the do-or-die stage of the tournament. And that showed in the scorelines too, as India huffed and puffed their way through Spain (2-0 in the QF) and faced a tough task from the Netherlands, who they also beat 2-1 in the SF. With fans expressing their furore, Balbir came back for the finals against hosts Great Britain. And he seemed to pick up where he left off, by scoring a brace and giving his team a crucial lead in the first half. The final score read 4-1, and Indian hockey had found a new hero in Balbir Singh.
There’s another great story around player Keshav Dutt, who hailed from Lahore. Having played alongside his Punjab teammate Shah Rukh, Dutt hid inside his friend’s house for almost a week. When the riots didn’t cease and word got out that he was providing shelter to a Hindu, Shah Rukh dropped Dutt at the Lahore station. They would meet a year later in London, on the hockey pitch for two opposing teams. It’s nuggets like these, that make it such a fascinating time for Hockey in the subcontinent.
Reema Kagti’s film seems to be loosely based on real life events, with Akshay Kumar playing a role modeled after the then team manager AC Chatterjee. Which brings us to Kumar’s dreadful interpretation of a Bengali accent. The film’s director surely inspires some low-key faith and we can all see the potential she initially saw in the idea. But can she integrate heartwarming nuggets into the film without turning into an Akshay Kumar PSA on patriotism? We’ll have to wait and watch.
Here’s the teaser of Gold:
Excel Entertainment’s Gold also stars Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh and Vineet Kumar Singh in significant roles. And it releases on Independence Day (duh!) with Akshay Kumar looking to deliver his fifth consecutive socially-conscious/patriotic blockbuster.