In the wake of the uber-successful Chak De India, which told the underdog story of women athletes in field hockey, Bollywood was quick to come up with DHAN DHANA DHAN GOAL. This time, the focus is on soccer (or football, as it's known everywhere other than the States). Except that when compared to CHAK DE INDIA, DHAN DHANA DHAN GOAL pales noticeably. And, even judged solely on its own merits, this film labors under a busload of bad cinematic decisions.
Just keep track of the cliches now.
For England's Southall United Football Club, things couldn't be at a lower ebb. Universally regarded as the armpit team of the Combined Counties Football League, Southall hasn't had a winning season in a hell of a while. The team being comprised of blue-collar players of South Asian descent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), racial baiting and discrimination surface with regularity (although, to be fair, there's also a fair amount of Brit bashing). What's more, the City Council is determined to tear down the Southall stadium and erect a shopping mall in its place. The only way out for Southall is to compete in the league tournament and win the championship (and the prize money, to pay off the lease, which hadn't been paid in the past eight years). The obstacles are daunting. No uniforms, no gear, no sponsorship, no coach, no support from the community, and the stadium stands are desolate. Most importantly, the team is hapless at the sport. My old granny with the two hip replacements could play a better brand of football.
The three central characters are strong selling points for the film. Arshad Warsi plays Shaan, the earnest team captain who determines to save the future of Southall United. He starts by recruiting disgraced and broken-down ex-player Tony Singh (Boman Irani) to be the team coach. Buff good-looker John Abraham plays Sunny Bhasin, a gifted but arrogant Pakistani striker who happens to look down at his own culture. When his dream of playing for an English football team is ignominiously shot down, he ends up signing on with the league's laughing stock. Team cohesiveness disintegrates even further when Sunny signs on, as he and Shaan simply cannot stand each other.
Really, there's absolutely nothing new here, but that's not the knock against this movie. Sports cinema wrings out cliches more often than Shahrukh Khan weeps in his roles. Thing is, the film is riddled with too much overwrought melodrama, and, at 2 hours 44 minutes, that's a whole lot of hand-wringing. It should really have taken a page from CHAK DE INDIA, which was exciting and dramatic in spots but overall maintained a low-key and grounded tone. Everything in DHAN DHANA DHAN GOAL is over-the-top, to the point that believability was shoved out the window fairly early on. I think it started going downhill for me, minutes into the movie, when the owner of the Southall United Football Club gets the bad news and then proceeds to abruptly die in the car (of grief, undoubtedly). Another intended high point but which ends up being laughable is the big inspirational speech the coach makes in the Manchester United team locker room. This moment is supposed to mark the turning point for the lowly team, except that, as performed by a momentarily ineffective Boman Irani, I don't see how it can. The disappointing thing is that, in his other scenes, Boman is his typically reliable self.
The action on the football field is decent, although some of the actors on the Southall side don't look very fit and convincing as athletes. The film's eventful final 20 minutes are devoted to the championship game and makes up a bit for the film's lapses.
Interestingly, Bipasha Basu plays an unusually forward girl (by Bollywood standards). She's the one who actually hits on the guy. I must've been getting caught up into Bollywood's traditional and cultural sensibilities, because I actually had to adjust to that. Bipasha routinely takes on vapid, sexy roles, so it's nice to see her play a fledgling sports physician here, and with glasses.
Solely based on my viewing experience, Bollywood has had a good track record with its sports-oriented flicks. I loved CHAK DE INDIA, as well as Iqbal and Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India. But that streak falls on the wayside with DHAN DHANA DHAN GOAL, which is a passable picture but left me with an overall lukewarm reaction. I guess if I wanted to see a really good football movie, I'd have to revisit Goal! - The Dream Begins or even Bend It Like Beckham (Widescreen Edition).
By the way, since this is a Bollywood product, there are musical numbers here. But, appropriate to the dramatic tones, there aren't as many as in your typical Bollywood film. Still, it's worth noting that, even burdened with a crutch, a proper dude in Bollywood must get down and balle balle whenever the song is cued. It's just one more reason I dig Bollywood.