Gulbahar Singh is a director who wants to make feature films on humanity, and The Goal (द गोल) is an unusual football drama in that its coach decides that overcoming prejudice is more important than winning.
In the story, coach Anupam (Irrfan Khan) is brought to Amragarh to help the Eleven Bullets win a youth soccer championship. Anupam wants to add talented Manu to his team, but the child is from a low caste and is the son of an imprisoned thief. The players, their families, and the team’s benefactor all reject Manu and interfere in the Coach’s selection.
Anupam feels that Manu is a rare talent, and as a coach, it is his duty is to take such talent to the right place, where it can be developed. He takes the child to their competitor, the Benu Bina FA in Durgapur. Eventually the 2 teams meet in the final game.
The film credits say that “All child players of Benu Bina Football Academy”, however I could find no reference to any such academy, so I assume this name is fictitious. However, there is a sports association that was historically sponsored by the Durgapur Steel company, and perhaps this was the source of the players, who seem to be around the age of U11. There is quite a lot of game footage from the “Bhuvan Mohini Challenge Cup – Silver Jubile Year”. Considering that the film is 20 years old, the boys are pretty good for that time period.
I could not find any additional information about Tapas Dhali, the boy who plays Manu. He can juggle the ball pretty well, but there is no soccer in this film that is going to impress the average soccer fan. Probably the best soccer part of the film is the large number of extras they recruited to cheer on the sidelines and go wild for every goal by either side.
Sadly, the great actor Irrfan Khan passed away in Apr-2020 after fighting cancer for 2 years. His so-called “last letter“, written after his initial diagnosis, is quite moving. The Goal was one of his early feature films after progressing above television acting. His performance is a bit stiff in the first half of the film, but once he gets into the social justice part of the story, he is more alive. He does not do any soccer in the film.
When looking at Irrfan Khan’s filmography, I was surprised to realize I had only seen him in 3 films before this one, and he had minor roles (Jurassic World, Life of Pi, and Slumdog Millionaire). And yet, he made such an impact on me, I thought I had seen him numerous times. Something about the way he plays his characters. perhaps his economy of movement, or those haunting eyes, just sticks.
The Goal could be very good for kids because of its social equality message. The youth soccer games are realistic, although the practices are not. Of course, viewers have to be able to read the sub-titles if they don’t speak Hindi.
From a cultural perspective, there are a lot of everyday scenes to give an idea of home meals, friendships, and the poverty that can be in an alley behind a church. The film is 90 minutes (not the usual 2+ hours) and there are no dance scenes, but it feels longer because the pace is very languid. We watch bits of culture and tradition and how business is transacted. I can’t say this is a great movie or one you shouldn’t miss. If you have the time, this a film where the goal should be to enjoy the details.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6