Film Review : Dangal

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.

From left : Nitesh Tiwari, Geeta Phogat, Babita Phogat, Aamir Khan and Mahavir Singh Phogat

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 clichΓ©d 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 clichΓ©d 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.

Rating: 4/5.

Share your thoughts on the film and the review in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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40 Comments

  1. Another wonderful film review from your stable.
    It is not just the narrative but the subject matter of the film that is compelling. At a time when the nation desperately needs to change its attitude towards sports and the participation of women in non traditional areas, the film should do well in pushing across a positive message.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review. I’ve been waiting for this film because I like Aamir Khan and also because I’ve become bored of the standard Indian love story dramas. But you’re right in pointing out how such movies protray a set trajectory…. It happened with chak de phatte, it happened with bhaag milkha bhaag, and I suspected this movie wouldn’t be any different, and your review just confirms my suspicions. However, having a sports based movie in India, which ISN’T based on cricket, merits a dekko all by itself. So go I will and let you know how I felt about it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are too many biopics/redemption flicks which follow a pattern. I felt this one was successful in that it worked despite that.
      We have a severe paucity of good sports films. This should do its bit in that, hopefully.
      Do watch it. How about a review on your blog after that?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. God, no!
          What have you reviewed on the blog till now? I don’t think you have. You have a view on films, you have watched quite a few (I guess) and you’re good with words. Nothing wrong with reviewing for you I guess. The worst that can happen is a few typos. The best? You never know.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think there was another movie review I read on your blog itself… That SRK film (see thats how bored I am of Indian movies)… So you DO review films 😁 As for me, I have a really biased taste in movies and music and I do not care for what the masses like (example – I loooove The English Patient, whereas most just think its chap and too weepy; I HATE Sholay and most think I’m an idiot for not seeing the greatness in that film)… Biased ppl dont make. Good critics… So no… I won’t do films 😁

            Liked by 1 person

            1. If you don’t want to do reviews, that’s fine. No explanation needed. However, saying that you are biased and hence can’t review objectively, that argument doesn’t hold. Most film reviewers, professional critics, have their own tastes. They have different voices. And there always are many films that aren’t well-received and yet are masterpieces. So, go figure!
              For example, a friend of mine told me back in ’07-8 that he didn’t like No Country For Old Men. Reason? Poor ending. When I saw that film, 4-5 years later, I absolutely loved it. It made total sense to me. So you see, crap happens.
              As for The English Patient, I haven’t watched that film yet so I can’t say. Sholay is a personal favourite of mine. But if you don’t like it, fine. It’s a matter of choice.
              So now you have it. You CAN do them. Its not about ability, its about choice.

              Ultimately, aapka mat aapki pasand!

              Liked by 1 person

  3. As predicted Amir Khan has nailed it again.
    Dangal is a movie must to watch for those who cares for the content and quality cinema. I haven’t seen it yet but after reading your reviews my desires are raising.
    Will watch it soon.
    Reviewed very well.CheersπŸ‘πŸ‘

    Liked by 1 person

              1. Yes, I’m trying. I get blocked very soon. Not knowing what to write about is my main concern. I have random things popping up, but then don’t make it to my blog. So, I need more of your writing tips series, so it inspires people like me πŸ˜›

                Liked by 1 person

              2. He he he. Very smart!
                I could give you a couple points here itself.
                When you have an idea, any idea, write it down somewhere. And as I noted in that “writing post”, let it ferment there.
                The more you write, the more prolific you’ll be. You can also take the daily writing prompts in case you are short of ideas or inspiration. Plus, you can do more of your photography posts. Not only do they bring in (too grotesque, I’m sorry! Say grab) more eyeballs, they will also keep you a) creatively satisfied in a minor way and, b) itching to write something substantial.

                Now look, I’ve leaked a whole post here. Don’t disappoint me by vanishing again. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜πŸ˜

                Liked by 1 person

              3. Hahaha, definitely not! I agree with you on all points. Daily prompts and photography are anyway my saviors :D. Will at least try to start writing some crap, whenever I have an idea and develop it later. At least the struggling part will be gone. You can elaborate more on this in your writing series πŸ™‚

                Liked by 1 person

              1. No problem at all! Glad I could! πŸ™‚ I don’t want to make commitments stating I can do it, as I’m afraid I can’t. πŸ˜€ Two posts a month for Women’s web might be too overwhelming for me. But yes, I have it in my head, just need to start writing and get some facts right. I really appreciate and admire your effort in posting regularly. Not easy at all!!

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Look, you don’t need to commit to any targets. I said two thinking you’d say one. 😝😝😁
                The point is, you can think of the idea for the post for two-three weeks and then write and submit them there. Plausible?
                And thank you for the appreciation. Thanks really! 😊

                Liked by 2 people

              3. Hehe, ya, I get your intention :P. But I’d be really elated if I have atleast one post per month on my blog itself as time passes by, forget WW! πŸ˜› I mean irrespective of life coming in between. That’s really a challenge for me. Also procrastination is my biggest hurdle.

                Liked by 1 person

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