Tejas Nair | December 25, 2016
Majority of sports films have lots of things in common between them. This one here tries hard and succeeds in being in the minority.
Mahavir Phogat (Aamir Khan) is a home-grown National-level wrestling champion who hopes to see his unborn son(s) make India proud by winning gold at the international level. Blame his X chromosomes, but he and his wife give birth to not one, not two, but four daughters, much to Mahavir’s disappointment. He surprisingly stops trying for a fifth child and packs up his dreams. However, as the kids grow up and show signs of aggressiveness, he realizes that even though their gender orientation is different from his, they may be good contenders for the game of wrestling. Convinced that his two eldest daughters, young Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar), may help him take his passion forward, he begins training them – pure Ludhiana-style. The story then follows Mahavir’s strict native coaching as the girls grow up (Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra) and try to climb the ladder, albeit while facing a series of stereotypes, hurdles, and rampant demoralization from the society.
As a viewer who is still in awe with the film, I will only talk about one specific (and the most important) sequence, which occurs towards the end of the first half. Without giving any spoilers – in order to prove that she doesn’t need more of her father’s guidance, Geeta gets into the pit to fight against the man who helped create her. The two-minute montage that Tiwari and cinematographer Sethu get absolutely, perfectly right, all with Aamir and Shaikh’s emotive reactions, is the most poignant scene seen in any Bollywood film this year. There is so much in that short sequence that defines the powers of human vanity, egotism, and haughtiness – all blended with humanity’s most vital feelings – it will make you cry.
That particular sequence is what got me, and I am going to break order by recommending this film right in the third paragraph itself. Go watch it in your nearest theater now.
Five minutes is all it will take you to get hooked into the otherwise long film (at 160 stimulating minutes). Delightful sequences that will lay out what is to be expected as you move forward with Mahavir and his daughters’ story. The cause of women empowerment is loud and clear as Tiwari and his allies etch a story about the usual stereotypes that surround when it comes to “women in sports”. The male gaze also makes an appearance here as Mahavir gives zero care to the world and moves ahead with his talented daughters in an attempt to shift mountains. How a father does what he does, regardless of his approach, but still thinks of his girls’ upbringing and a bright future is what Dangal essentially talks about. It tries to smash and subdue the voices that sway in the air about inequality, and oppression of women and their rights. As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s a triumph, because it sheds light on both sides of the coin. Mahavir’s wife is worried about her daughters’ food-making skills, but she is cajoled that people are not living in caves anymore.
Of course, the narrative is formulaic, as Tiwari uses the usual elements (think Chak De! India (2007), Sultan (2016) to ignite chatter about the much-talked-about cause, patriotism, the decrepit sports authority of India, and other related things. The ability to shed light into how it is the government which is to be blamed for sportspeople not winning medals should be lauded, but let’s not give the film the hat of a pioneer. Other films in the genre think of it as water under the bridge.
The young girls do a very good job at enacting kids who are growing up and who love pani-puri, yet are forbidden by their father. Their determination in portraying their characters is terrific. Same with Fatima Sana Shaikh who is well- directed, yet her character is written with some traces of bad Bollywood in it. She steals the show, nonetheless. Sakshi Tanwar and Aparshakti Khurrana support the main cast very well, with the latter providing comic relief.
Aamir Khan justifies his role, and makes it obvious why he is showered with certain adjectives and nouns. After Talaash (2012) and Dhoom 3 (2013), his authority as a game-changer in Bollywood was beginning to diminish, but this one here surely has the strength to resurrect him as the man. His physical transformation (twice) to do justice to his portrayal reassures that he may still be in the game.
Dangal is a film that makes the right use of background music, slow motion capturing and editing, and other film factors. It keeps its audience at the edge of their seats throughout the film, yet stays relevant, and never bores. Thumping songs will get you higher and make you marvel at the cinematic excellence as it unfolds layer by layer. Overall, there aren’t enough sentences to describe the lists of things that this film achieves. It rhetorically asks if women aren’t better than men. Then it proves that it’s all about equality, making feminists cower at the backseat. What took them years and years to start, this film here did it in less than three hours.
BOTTOM LINE: Nitesh Tiwari’s “Dangal” is surprisingly brilliant for a sports drama. It is a film that is not only about sports or the spirit of winning, but about a father’s quest to make his children understand what passion can do, and how one can set an example. Other than learning some good wrestling strategy, Dangal is a triumph that will appeal to everyone. Go for it!
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