When Virat Kohli cut one past point to bring up his first ton on English soil, the cameras straightaway turned towards the stands searching for Anushka Sharma. A beaming Sharma completed the rosy picture with Kohli kissing the ring attached to a chain after removing his helmet to celebrate the century.
Anushka, however, wasn’t the only Bollywood presence during the match, at least on the television screens.
The brilliant Kohli knock kept getting interrupted by TV commercials where Akshay Kumar kept popping up to stoke patriotism, drawing parallels between the Test series and the ‘Test’ the Indian team in 1948 faced in the Olympics.
Wait. A cricket team at Olympics? Well, not really.
The team in question was the Hockey team of free India that played in the Olympics of 1948.
Gold, an upcoming movie starring Akshay Kumar, is a movie revolving around the first Olympic medal that a post-independence India managed to bag, naturally in Hockey, a sport in which they’d already won three Gold by then.
Akshay Kumar plays the Bengali coach of a team struggling with its own set of problems post partition. The trailer is full of forced injections of patriotism with Kumar’s character repeatedly inculcating in his troops how the earlier Gold medals were achieved playing under the Colonial flag, thereby emphasising the need of a ‘Gold of our own’. So far, so good.
As has become the norm of late, the movie left no stone unturned with its promotions and chose India’s Tour of England to reach out to the millions watching what’s touted to be one of the most significant challenges for Kohli and Co.
While it’s a practical promotional strategy, given the pull cricket has over this country, it also exposes the hypocrisy of the showbiz world, especially when it comes to sport.
In several promotional events, Kumar, who basks in the moniker of Khiladi, has made a serious face and delivered lip service on how the current state of Hockey needs encouragement in the country. That, one would believe, is the correct thing to say, for Hockey has severely lagged behind in the past few years.
The meteoric rise of Kabaddi and the popularity of Football in general coupled with India’s good show in the sport have ensured the disappearance of Hockey from the minds of the average Indian sports fan. At such a time, a movie on Hockey seems like a much needed shot in the arm for the sport. If Kumar can pull it off, the film can bring the game back into popular consciousness, much like Chak De! India managed to do a decade ago.
But the problem arises when the actions don’t match the words.
Gold’s promotional efforts present a simple case of talking the talk and not walking the talking. The strategy to promote the movie in a cricket Test series belies all logic, except one i.e. the logic of money. Bollywood, like any other industry, is an industry driven by profits. The idea to reach out to maximum numbers through the most followed sport looks good on paper.
But that’s the only place where it looks good. In fact, there have been fewer sights as odd as Kumar promoting a movie on Hockey in a cricket series. Maybe his wig in Action Replay comes closer.
It comes across as more problematic when there’s a Women’s Hockey World Cup going on, a tournament that was in dire need of some cheer. The tournament ended recently with India suffering a heartbreak defeat at the hands of the Irish women in the quarters.
However, this was also the first time in 40 years that the Women’s team made it to the Quarter Finals, news that slipped through the cracks because of the sparse coverage the tournament enjoyed in the media. From a financial point of view, a tie-up with a competition with a following and exposure way less than that of a cricket series sounds an unwise decision.
At the same time, though, the words of the superstar on how he hopes the movie restores the status of Hockey seem hollow when he’s seen selling his movie with a cricket series. If one were to connect the dots, it seems the makers of the film and Kumar himself are telling the people to come and watch a movie that they have made on Hockey, but watch cricket for its promotions.
What more, not a single tweet of Akshay Kumar has been about the Women’s World Cup in all the time that the World Cup was underway in London. Who cares about the real Hockey anyway!
Kumar is one of Bollywood’s many proponents of blink activism, i.e. activism that lasts as long as the promotions for the next movie start. It wasn’t too long ago that he was voicing his opinions everywhere about women’s menstrual health.
That came after he was advocating the need for toilets in every household. Surely, you haven’t heard him talking about those issues now because those films (Padman and Toilet) have already been sold and released. Nowadays, it’s all about Hockey. But, in a curious turn of events, on a cricket platform.
Not only such promotions reek of hypocrisy but they also trivialise the efforts of real activists, or in this case, advocates of the sport. It’s a matter of grave concern that an actor’s lip service about the state of hockey in the country finds space in all the newspapers, but calls from former players to follow the game, (whose support surely would last longer than a movie’s release) fall on deaf ears.
For years, Bollywood has made movies on stories of sports and athletes.
And for years, their treatment of sports has made it appear like a mere plaything for people with big pockets but little empathy. While the status of a sport shouldn’t be dependent on the box office collections of a movie, there is no denying the fact that with its massive appeal Bollywood can prove to be a viable vehicle for a sport’s comeback into public consciousness.
Besides, it also raises a question that for all the big bucks that the producers make from their sports based movies, do they owe something back to the sport?
On that count, Excel entertainment and Kumar have left a lot to be desired. Women’s World Cup wasn’t the only opportunity that they had to show some commitment towards the sports in general. 2018 also happens to be the year when India competes in the Men’s Hockey World Cup in its backyard.
However, it is believed that Excel Entertainment’s talks with the Hockey Federation fell through after several high demands made by the makers for the movie’s promotion that could not be fulfilled.
Gold isn’t the complete picture, though. It’s merely symptomatic of a more significant malaise that exists in the film industry – that of it being apathetic about its subjects. Akshay Kumar’s last movie Padman brought the debate to fore when it drew flak for turning a South Indian subject into a north Indian.
It was only following in the footsteps of Airlift, which again had a North Indian protagonist despite the man in the real story hailing from the southern part of the country.
The success of Gold at the box office is almost guaranteed given the timing of its release, its subject and of course, Akshay Kumar.
And by the time it celebrates its entry into the billion club, we are inevitably going to hear more of how hockey is a great sport and how Indian Hockey should be followed more by the cast.
The joke, however, will be on us, if we fail to see through the elaborate con and send a movie on Hockey to hundred or two hundred crore club while failing to fill up the stadiums when the Hockey World Cup begins in November in Bhubaneswar. For once, let’s cheer on the real heroes and not the opportunist ones.