Dhan Dhana Dhan...Goal runs against the grain of most Bollywood movies you see. How so? The pattern so far has been shoddy writing and glossy execution. Most Indian films tend to disintegrate plot wise towards the end of the second third. Even the recent Om Shanti Om is victim to this pattern.
Goal, on the other hand, is pretty decently written. There are some honking flaws - a poorly constructed twist that is unfurled awkwardly in the end, and a nebulous resolution to a bravely posed issue of race are prominent - but take those away and the writing is passable, even solid. Unfortunately its the execution that lets Goal down badly.
The story is a contrived one: Southall has a really sorry soccer club that doesn't get any respect from anyone. The City wants to sell the land to a developer. If Southall - led by Shaan (Arshad Warsi) - can get their act together and win the "league", they get prize money which happens to be exactly the amount they need to get out of jail on the lease for the next 30 years! Adbhut!
Once this rather mindless premise is removed, Goal goes on to tackle some interesting issues - primarily among them is the question: how does a person define himself? Is it by way of race or is it by way of upbringing. This is mostly realized through Sunny Bhasin (played by John Abraham having more fun than I've seen him have in recent times), a talented striker with genuine pace, who finds himself playing for the team he abhors after being shunned by someone he had his hopes pinned on (and yes, he also loses a bet). Sunny's agenda is that he just wants to play ball and wants race to be a non-issue.
Goal is brave enough to tackle the issue of second generation immigrants. It gives us a muddled resolution but not ducking the hard questions at the risk of muddying a fairly straightforward movie is admirable. There are some beautifully written scenes - particularly one in which Sunny runs into his father at a convenience store.
In all of this, several multiplex dues are paid - that do the movie a disservice. A romance is cooked up between team physio Rumana (Bipasha Basu - looking radiantly useless in the flick) and Sunny that doesn't go anywhere. There is an item song (the magnificent Billo Rani) inserted so ludicrously in the movie that it elicits tons of chuckles.
The cinematography in Goal is extremely choppy. Goal doesn't have the luxury of closed sets - its shot entirely outdoors on location. This contributes to the uneven feel of the movie. But its also in the way shots are constructed and executed - they make the dialog sound trite and heavy handed. There's is even an amateurish problem with camera focus in the film - foreground characters often appear blurry than the centered background behind them.
Like set pieces in soccer, the scenes sometimes feel like they are shot independently and then stitched together to form a movie. This often gets bad enough to the point where beats that look like they were shot for a montage are inserted into a scene without any correlation.
Besides all its shortcomings, there were two things that really bothered me about Goal.
First, the role of the women - even by Bollywood standards as observed astutely by Beth - is minuscule. Given several minor scenes to coast through, Bips is then handled with confoundingly traditional expectations by director Vivek Agnihotri.
Second, in tackling important issues of race and identity, Goal ends up spinning a "me versus them" vibe that I found simplistic and short sighted. In trying to explain why the residents of Southall hold identity so dear, it creates a world in which unity is equated with segregation.