For a sports-crazed nation like India, onscreen athletics very often take on political undertones, unlike in many Western movies. From Dilip Kumar’s tense kabbadi dual in B.R. Chopra’s great 1957 socialist manifesto Naya Daur to Aamir Khan’s vastly outflanked cricket troubadours taking on their colonial British overseers in 2001’s Lagaan, politics are often the driving force that propel sporting events. Firmly in the winner-take-all grudge match camp, Goal, despite its few faults, is strangely watchable.

In the wake of the immense success of Yashraj’s hockey-themed Chak De! India, something like this soccer-themed entry was sure to follow. Set in the predominantly desi London suburb of Southall, this Indian-U.K. joint production follows a plot with stereotypes galore: the desis are good (a rag-tag team of desi soccer players want a shot at glory and a 3-million-pound booty); the white characters are generally bad (a white council woman wants to build a shopping mall on the cricket player’s home turf, all-white opposing teams yell racial epithets when all else fails).

As disjointed as all this sounds, Agnihotri and team make it all somehow gel, mostly due to Abraham’s performance of a bi-cultural, London-born desi unable to decide how best to utilize his considerable kicking abilities. Irani is also effective as a one-time soccer great brought out of retirement for a chance to relive the glory he was unfairly deprived of earlier in his career. The film features a catchy tune or two (check out the confrontational “Heh Dude, Don’t Mess With Me”), and UTV scored a diplomatic coup when the film’s Dubai distributor arranged for Goal to become the first Hindi film officially released in Pakistan in a long time.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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