Aamir Khan’s biopic-drama about the life and dream of Mahavir Singh Phogat, Dangal, released in cinemas this week.
The film chronicles the way Mr. Phogat fought to make sure his unfulfilled dream of bringing a gold medal in wrestling for India was fulfilled by his daughters.
Mr. Phogat is a national champion in wrestling who has to leave his dream because his father wanted him to earn money through a job. Like many non-cricket sports in India, wrestling didn’t pay well enough for a person to make a career out of it. While he buries his desire of winning a gold medal for the country, he believes his son would do what he couldn’t. He tells his pregnant wife as much.
Fate had other plans, of course. Despite their own best efforts and the use of various tips and tricks suggested by the villagers, the Phogats only get girls, two of them. Mahavir Singh knows it is the death knell for his dream. Reason? Girls dont wrestle. Not in Haryana they don’t.
When his pre-teen daughters beat two boys one day, he understands how it’s fated to be. His girls would realise his dream! And to ensure that, the man puts in his heart and soul.
There is a set formula for redemption narratives. The protagonist fails due to any reason, he loses hope, hope rekindles, hurdles in the way, glory! Dangal follows this pattern too. This is not meant to be a criticism of the film. It is marvellous how the real-life narrative fits in the formula. Oh, and there’s another rise-fall-rise narrative within the larger one.
Dangal is set in the rural backyards of the northern state of Haryana. Patriarchy, child marriage, sexism and male chauvinism are facets of life in India that cannot be ignored, more so in the rural areas. Mr. Phogat’s craving for a son, the disdain for women’s wrestling and the way men leer at Geeta when she goes to a competition (Dangal in the rural lingo) for the first time, are among the instances when the film touches on these subjects. A large part of the first half is dedicated to Mahavir’s fight against the ills, more external than internal. The second half however, largely stays away from feminism and gender equality. It’s then a fight to ensure the dreams and years of hard work don’t go down the drain. Nationalistic fervour becomes the flavour of choice. Speaking of which, maybe the multiplexes could have done away with the obligatory playing of the national anthem before this film. Half the theatre stood up again when the anthem played in the film. So, there you go!
The film also touches on how official apathy leads to underperformance from many of India’s best medal hopes. Predictably, it doesn’t shy away from playing to the gallery in its bid to incorporate some drama in the story.
The songs of the film are good, especially the title track and “Haanikaarak.” Watching them on the big screen only makes them more effective. The editing is crisp, not letting things sag anywhere. The production design is top-notch too, evoking the feel of the rural heartland. Small details like the medals and memorabilia have been taken care of too, which is good to see.
In a film with a name like Aamir Khan, based on a real-life story of guts and glory, there isn’t much need for anything else. Mr. Khan carries the film ably on his broad shoulders, minding all the nuances that his character demands with aplomb. He proves why he is one of the most respected actors in Bollywood today. However, the director Nitesh Tiwari must be praised for getting the best out of his other cast members, even if a lot of them play clichéd roles. Omkar Phogat, the film’s narrator, is Mr. Phogat’s nephew and sparring partner for the girls at their akhara. He provides a lot of the comic relief. The film lacks a true villain, perhaps in part due to the story being a struggle against the system and the self. But, Girish Kulkarni as the national coach Kadam plays his part to the T. Sakshi Tanwar as Daya Shobha Kaur, Mahavir Singh’s wife and the girls’ mother, is as clichéd as they come. That only makes her more relatable though. The scene where she vociferously fights Mahavir to stop him from cooking non-veg food in ‘her’ kitchen is something that is played in countless Indian homes. Special praise is reserved for the four girls playing the roles of Geeta and Babita. Both the girls playing the roles of Babita, Sanya and Suhani, are terrific. And little Zaira Wasim as the young Geeta is a pocket dynamo, especially with the dialogue, “Ab Dangal Hoga!” Fatima Sana Sheikh as her older self is the second protagonist of the film, the one whose journey determines whether Mr. Phogat’s dream is achieved or not.
Verdict : Dangal is an enjoyable sport biopic that manages to rise above the formula of its narrative through the sheer force of its subject matter.
Dangal is Rated U and is 161 minutes long. It is now playing in cinemas.
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