Rating : 3.8/5
Genre : Drama
Year : 2016
Running time : 2 hours 49 minutes
Director : Nitesh Tiwari
Cast : Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Sheikh, Sanya Malhotra, Girish Kulkarni
Kid rating: G
Dangal is based on the real-life story of Geeta and Babita Phogat, two sisters from a small village in Haryana, who are champion wrestlers today. The credit for much of this goes to their father Mahavir Singh Phogat, who was a wrestler himself.
In the film Phogat (played by Khan) is a National champion, but gives up wrestling to take up a government job and settle into matrimony. He pins his wrestling dreams on the birth of a son, but when his wife (Tanwar) delivers 4 daughters in succession, Phogat puts away his medals and his dreams. When daughters Geeta (Sheikh) and Babita (Malhotra) thrash a neighborhood boy to pulp, Phogat is overjoyed that their fighting skills can be put to good use in the wrestling arena. Thus begins their training.
Dangal is a feel-good, patriotic sort of a film. We know the ending, so it is a tad bit predictable, but it has been dramatized well and showcases the Phogat family achievement nicely. There is an effort to involve the audience – the rules of wrestling are explained, and much of the film has full length dramatized wrestling matches. There is also a feminist angle to Dangal, in that Phogat challenges the norms to push his daughters into the wrestling arena, a domain that in rural Haryana is reserved only for men. The villagers laugh at his long-haired, salwar-kameez clad daughters’ transformation to “knicker”-wearing, short-haired girls wrestling with boys, for want of female sparring partners.
Aamir Khan, per his reputation, brings authenticity to the film. As the stocky, Haryanvi Mahavir Singh Phogat who, to the derision of the orthodox village, trains his daughters to wrestle, Aamir is the backbone of the film. Dangal revolves around Papaji, his resolve and his determination. While that is interesting to watch, it also brings up some troubling points. For a film that talks about female empowerment, Geeta and Babita seem to have no choice in the matter of wrestling. Their father’s wishes are foisted on them – he decides that they will become wrestlers, even going as far as too have their long locks sheared off, against their wishes, when the hair interferes with wrestling.
There is another scene in the film where Geeta, now training at the National Sports Authority Camp, comes home to question Papaji’s theories. Several emotional scenes later she puts aside her own opinion and begs forgiveness from her father. I found this troubling, because it seemed to negate Geeta’s independent thought (whether right or wrong), and forced the “cultural” more of “the parents are always right”.
I understand that Aamir set out to make a commercial film not a documentary, so some “fictionalization” of the story was necessary. However the emotional drama is laid on a bit thick, and some characters like the NSA Coach’s (Kulkarni) are caricaturized to make Phogat the hero by comparison. While I am glad that wrestling is getting its due as a sport, and that the Phogat story will inspire many other young women, and open doors that otherwise would have been slammed shut, I am little disappointed that Dangal does not delve any deeper than surface-level jingoism.
Amir’s character in the film seems a medium-grade liberal, desiring sons, but not blaming his wife for birthing daughters either. He becomes a feminist because of his desire for a wrestling medal, and his daughters are able to flout patriarchal notions of propriety because he stands behind them protectively. Would Geeta and Babita have had freedom to do this, if wrestling had been their desire not their father’s? We’ll never know, and Dangal does not attempt to give Geeta and Babita a voice either.
Still, a decent watch. Be prepared for some cheesiness.
Kidwise: Clean and family-friendly.