How Truly Inspired Is ‘Gold’ From the Indian Olympic Win of 1948?
“Inspired By True Events” says the text on Gold trailer which tells the tale of how free India won its first Olympic gold medal courtesy the Indian hockey team in the Olympics of 1948 held in London. While the Indian hockey team did defeat the British to win the country’s first gold as an independent nation at the 1948 Summer Olympics, did a alcoholic Bengali named Tapan Das really exist who brought the team together from scratch and engineered the big win?
An article dated 22 July 2012, in The Telegraph, recounts the real story behind the Indian hockey team’s victory in the Olympics via three players who were part of that amazing team. A report in The Hindu states that there was initially a suggestion to field a joint India-Pakistan team for 1948 Olympics, but this idea had no takers and the two countries decided to form separate squads.
Did Partition really affect the Indian hockey team as show in the film? Well, yes and no. Keshav Datt, a member of the team was from Lahore and he was in Bombay when Partition was declared. Datt recounts how his mother asked him not to return to Lahore since riots had broken out. However Datt still went to Lahore as his Muslim teammates assured him safety.
Lahore was burning and Hindu homes were emptied, Datt was staying with his friend and teammate Shah Rukh and soon the word began to spread that he was being sheltered in Shah Rukh’s home. The fear for his own life and his friend’s prompted Datt to flee to Delhi. Datt was safely dropped to the Lahore station by Shah Rukh and the two later met again only in London during the Olympics in different teams.
Datt’s story has been adapted by the writers in Gold as Imtiaz Shah’s (Vineet Kumar singh) backstory. Imtiaz is seen stuck in a riot like situation in Amritsar during partition and is forced to leave for Lahore with the help of his friends Tapan Das (Akshay Kumar) and Himmat Singh (Sunny Kaushal). Imtiaz then becomes a part of the Pakistan hockey team and meets his friends in London where they come to compete in the Olympics of 1948.
Sunny Kaushal’s character Himmat Singh is reportedly inspired by the original hockey legend Balbir Singh. The article in The Hindu which recounts the actual final match between India and Britain in 1948 states that Balbir Singh was dropped in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and India struggled in both these matches. He was finally brought back for the finals against Britain following an uproar and Singh ended up shooting 2 of the 4 goals that led India to victory.
A similar plot is used for Himmat Singh’s character in Gold as he is kept off the field for all the matches, which adds to his frustration, till he is finally permitted to play in the final match against Britain.
Unlike what is shown in the film, the Indian team really didn’t have to struggle to find a place to practice their hockey before setting off for London for the Olympics. The team trained at the parade ground in Mumbai and not on a field near the Kanheri caves belonging to a Tibetan group as shown in Gold.
Naval Tata was the Indian Hockey Federation’s president during the time and his character, though Parsi in the film, has been named Wadia. The politics and jealousy of the office bearer, Mr Mehta, (which is the weakest link in the film) is understandably all fictitious, created to lend Gold some filmi drama.
Would a Tapan Das in 1948 have really struggled to put together a great Indian hockey team for the Olympics as depicted in the film? Jaswant Singh Rajput, who played left-half in the historic match said, “The Partition did not hit us much in terms of available talent... We had enough good players to send two teams to London”. So that’s that.
And finally, was there a Tapan Das who managed the Indian hockey team at all? All I could figure was that the Indian team did have a manager named AC Chatterjee. There must be a story there, else why would the makers go through the pain of depicting Akshay Kumar as a Bengali when he could have played someone named Tarun Khanna with much more ease.