John Abraham has met his match. And I don't mean Bipasha Basu with whom he here forms a truly endearing match. The match he meets is the one on the field. Spectacularly filmed, the green vistas of Agnihotri’s London locales fill the screen with a vigour vim and virility that go well with the mood of this sporty slick and sometimes spoofy always spiffy tale of sportsmanship, racism, brotherhood and victory against all odds. You get the picture. Look….let's face it. There's just this much that a director can do with a sports film. It has to be about a bunch of semi-losers facing up to all odds to emerge winners in the climactic game. There have to be warring groups and a burnt-out disgraced coach….Shah Rukh in Chak De India and Boman Irani here are in spirit the 'won' and the shame, though not necessarily in that order.The spirit of Chak De India haunts Goal, though not in any damaging or ridiculing way. While in essence the two films shake hands on many occasions, there are several interludes and episodes in Goal that take a route away from the mellow meadows embraced by Chak De India.
Here the line of action is eternally aggressive. The war between football teams and among members of the same team, are aligned with acidic remarks and barbed comments that bring into notice the slanted racist slurs that operate beneath the spirit of sportsmanship in a country that has many kinds of cultures and people co-existing uneasily under the prosperous veneer.
The ideas on inequality and on-field aggression occupy centre stage in Vivek Agnihotri's film. He doesn't bite more than he can chew. The director is in splendid form here, letting the characters grow from the theme as naturally and vivaciously as the gamely narration allows.
Yup, Agnihotri knows his football far better than he knew the noire genre in his first film Chocolate. The matches on the field are played with a restrained gusto and the conflicts off-field have an air of casual spontaneity about them. Attarsingh Saini's camera searches for the root-cause of every character's stress-level, and then gives it a visual rendering.
This is easier said than done. Luckily for us, a lot of what's said reveals the characters' inner world. The outer world with its jagged edges and baffling contradictions takes shape willy-nilly.
The John-Bipasha relationship here is more fun that the sexual frisson in Jism or the psychological tangles in Madhoshi. Watch Bipasha make space for herself in this boys-will-be-boys tale of triumphant sportsmanship. She finds her métier without jostling or over-acting.
John Abraham in the author-backed role holds his own, instilling a sense of averted peril in all his rugged scenes and a softening –down in his romantic scenes. The rhythm is preserved with endearing ferocity.
The film's back bone is the John-Arshad rivalry. Arshad once again proves himself the unstoppable scene-stealer. Displaying wrath and cynicism, he plays the field in Goal with consummate aplomb.
The performances add considerably to the film's fine sense of a team spirit. But finally it's the director who like the conductor of a slightly off-key orchestra manages to hold the film's sur in place without sacrificing the spontaneity that comes with the territory in all sports films.
Leave aside Chak De India and watch Goal for its neat blend of bite and bark in a game where the ball says it all.