Dangal is a heroic story sincerely told at a time when India does not need it the most but is already willing to accept stories such as these with open arms. (More on this towards the end.) The film starts in Balali, a small village in Bhiwani district, Haryana. The year is 1988. The year in which Geeta, the eldest of the Phogat sisters and the gold medallist in wrestling at the 2010 CWG and the first Indian woman to have qualified for Olympics in wrestling is born. Before her birth there are aspirations in the family for having a boy child. Why? So that Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan) – a former wrestler whose dreams of getting a medal for India were shattered due to family pressure – can train his son to win a gold for the nation. In his dream, there is pain – of not getting the support a player needs, in him there is hope – of having his child achieve what he couldn’t, and in his temperament are impulsiveness and passion – to make sure that things go his way. Nonetheless, Mahavir and Shobha give birth to four daughters, and accepting it as fate he forgets about his dream. One fine day his girls Geeta and Babita come home after beating two boys, and all of Mahavir’s desires for the medals are reignited. What makes the film are the candid moments behind the inspiring story of the Phogat family that the world has already witnessed.
So, what makes this simple story told in a linear fashion stand out? The film has its priorities spot on: focusing on the authenticity of portrayal, and the subtleties of human emotions, rather than the craft or technicalities of cinema in isolation. The film’s ambition is not in scale or innovation, but just to bring this tale to life with all honesty, through earnest performances. And that exactly is what works for the film. It has a simple visual treatment without any frill – relying on neat cinematography, and simple transitions – cuts and fades. Mostly cuts. Slow motions are used just at the right moments. Montages hold the entire narrative well together. There is a montage of the villagers suggesting methods for the Phogats to try so that they can be blessed with a boy. There is another montage of the villagers coming up with excuses when the Phogats have another daughter. Montages like these don’t let the movie lose its sheen. Inter-cutting has been used smartly in the film. A sequence where Geeta is losing an international match, while Babita is winning nationals is extremely effective. The music energises, enthrals and heightens the mood exactly where it needs to. The music is rustic in the first half and changes in the latter half as the action shifts from the village to the competitions.
All the performances in the film are top notch. The performances by the girls (Geeta played by Fatima Sana Shaikh and Zaira Waseem, and Babita played by Sanya Malhotra and Suhani Bhatnagar) are thunderous. The transition between their younger selves to their elder selves is seamless. Sakshi Tanwar, as their mother, is a nuanced character and has total control. Aamir Khan is famed to be a perfectionist. His performance as Mahavir Singh Phogat is extremely credible and undoubtedly one of his finest. But his persona is too big to be subdued. The movie begins with an impromptu kushti between Aamir and one of his colleagues (which is craftily cut over commentary from a supposed match, but fits this fight to the T). The sequence is followed by a montage of various akhadas and kushtis, which Aamir attends (mind you, not Mahavir, but Aamir). It is only after the daughters come in that Aamir takes on the role of Mahavir completely and we forget that it is a film that we are watching. However, a character that deserves a special mention is that of the Phogat sisters’ cousin brother and Mahavir’s nephew, Omkar, referred lovingly as K2J2. Watch the movie to get the full form and why he is called so; you won’t be disappointed. The character not only brings the lighter moments in the film, which in itself is not very dark, but stands as a strong pillar to the Phogat girls throughout. Many of the films’ memorable moments and dialogues come from this character.
Nitesh Tiwari’s direction is seamless. He has managed to get the flavours right. There is something in this work of his that is strongly reminiscent of Rajkumar Hirani. The poignancy and comedy go hand in hand. For example, there are workarounds that Mahavir finds to coach Geeta amidst the restrictions set upon her at the national academy; The modus operandi and how the scenario unfurls draws an immediate allusion to Hirani’s cinema.
All said, Dangal is a pleasant watch. It is not something new, as by now, Indian cinema has seen an array of films with strong women characters shattering social conventions, but it is certainly something fresh. It picks up the right emotions, the right moments, the right slices of life, to strike all the right chords. Dangal does tug at your heartstrings.
Food for thought. Every film brings forth an ideology, the merits and demerits of which must be discussed. Ultimately, the girls do have all the glory. But how justified were the methods through which they were trained? Initially against their will, without their say, and for aspirations that were never theirs, in a family where the father had the last word.
Is the story progressive? Or has regressiveness been glorified?