John Abraham has finally met his match. And I don't mean Bipasha Basu with whom he forms a truly endearing match.
This time the match he meets is one on the field.
Spectacularly filmed, the green vistas of Vivek Agnihotri's London locales fill the screen with vigour, vim and virility that go well with the mood of this sporty slick, which is a spiffy tale of sportsmanship, racism, brotherhood and victory against all odds.
Let's face it, there's just so much that a director can do with a sports film. It has to be about a bunch of semi-losers facing all the odds to emerge as winners in the climactic game and there have to be warring groups and a burnt-out disgraced coach. Shah Rukh Khan in 'Chak De India' and Boman Irani here are in spirit the one and the same, 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 wars between football teams and between the 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 is multi-cultured and where people co-exist uneasily under a veneer of prosperity.
The ideas on inequality and on-field aggression occupy the centre stage in 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 narration allows.
Yes, Agnihotri knows his football far better than he knew the noire genre in his directorial debut '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 has been 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 than 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 metier without jostling or over-acting.
John in the author-backed role holds his own, instilling a sense of averted peril in all his rugged scenes and a softening down in the romantic scenes. The rhythm is preserved with endearing ferocity.
The film's backbone 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 team spirit. But finally it's the director who like the conductor of a slightly off-key orchestra manages to hold the film in place without sacrificing the spontaneity that comes with the territory in all sports films.
Watch 'Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal' for its neat blend of bite and bark in a game where the ball says it all.