Movie Review: Dangal

Jerusha Jose, III Year B. V. A. Fine Arts

As a girl with a mallu father and a Tamil mother, who has lived all her life in Chennai, I had grown up relying on only English as a mode of communication and comprehension as I had never had a flair for languages. So when a friend invited me to watch Dangal, I was reluctant since it wouldn’t do the movie justice if I stared at the lower half of the theatre screen through the movie for the subtitles.

But it took my friend very little convincing to get me to tag along to watch the movie, since it had Aamir Khan as the lead. I had watched one Hindi movie previously, just one, and that movie was 3 Idiots, which explains why I fell in love with Aamir Khan.

By the end of the three hours I spent at the theatre, it was quite evident I had gone for Aamir Khan, stayed for the art direction but, inconceivably, was moved by the storyline.

In the story department, Dangal offers few surprises because Geeta and Babita’s historic wins at the Commonwealth Games and following championships are common knowledge. However, this screen adaptation serves as a recap of their arduous journey and it faithfully recaptures their stubborn father’s resolve to make them professional wrestlers against all odds. Since it encapsulates the historic wins of the Phogats, who brought India glory, the film is also bound to inspire more women to seriously consider kushti as a sport.

What works wonderfully here is the writing. Director Nitesh Tiwari, along with Piyush Gupta, Shreyas Jain and Nikhil Meharotra should be complimented for the film’s tongue-in-cheek quality, peppered with humour and several poignant father-daughter emotions. Of course, a little bit is lost to me in translation because of the average subtitles and to my friends thanks to the Haryanvi twang. But, messages on the obsession with the male child (prevalent since the dark ages), the myopic stand on bringing up daughters and the administration’s pathetic disposition towards sports, are loud and clear.

There comes a time when a star gives in wholly to the demands of a role which he knows will make him look unappealing: as a wannabe wrestler past his prime, Aamir Khan is squat, with a heavy belly, a deliberate gait, and a grizzled beard in Dangal. Only his jutting ears are familiar: the rest of him is pure character.

We are going to have to measure Aamir Khan’s future performances with this one: as Mahavir Singh Phogat, failed wrestler, rough-hewn authoritarian, but caring husband and father of four girls, he scales it up to a point where you can see the star take on a character, try it for size, and make it his own.

That was crucial for us to believe in Dangal, which borrows several elements from the real-life Haryana wrestler who trained his older two daughters, Geeta (played by Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (played by Sanya Malhotra), in the art of wrestling, and turned them into winners.

Dangal works on the twin parameters it sets up for itself. One is a straight-forward film about a popular sport and those who play it: we feel and smell the mitti of the akhara, the daav pench (No, I didn’t master Hindi in a day, I had a friend help) that truly skilled wrestlers use to face down formidable foes. We see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the making of champions.

The other is a strong feminist statement about girls being the equal of boys, if not better, in an area they’ve never been seen in, let alone accepted. When Mahavir steps into that tricky arena, he is derided and ridiculed: so are his young female charges, as well as their mother (played by Sakshi Tanwar) who could not bear sons.

In the Khap-ridden state of Haryana, where baby girls are still murdered at birth, and ‘honour killing’ is practiced with impunity and condoned (you may be over 18, but you have no right over your life), there cannot be a more important statement, especially when it comes from such a big star.

As an art student, I was amazed at the art direction as minor details were narrated with such precision and vitality. From Geeta brushing off sand from her newly buzzed hair with the sunrise as a background for the spectrum of colours one could imagine in a traditional Haryana home. The movie wasn’t only a visual treat, with the titular songs and the soundtrack displaying a fragment of a larger anthology.

The movie will toy with your emotions, make you proud of being a woman, and will, definitely, allow you to fall in love with every character in a unique way.

The four girls, who bring Geeta and Babita to life, were each decked with determination, passion, brilliant acting skills and one heck of a training with respect to the sport in question – Dangal, Wrestling.

Though this movie avoided turning into a vanity project, which is a clear and present danger when it comes to anything involving big stars. It could have been made more polished than required. In places it is stolid, and could have done with some lift, but it is strong all the way through. And, most crucially, it stays real, because the star ratchets it up when required, and lets it go in the rest.

[Photo Source: Wikipedia]


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