Film Review: The charm of watching Dangal

Mahavir Phogat’s focus on making his girls successful wrestlers is the decision of a patriarch which inadvertently sides with women lib. I would support him rather than crib about his dictatorial ways

Photo by Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Keshav Singh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Pragati Saxena

I finally yielded to the charms of ‘hanikaarak bapu’ after resisting the temptation for about a month following the Supreme Court’s order that viewers must stand up during the mandatory rendering of the national anthem in cinema halls. But after watching this much talked about film and now a box office hit during these testing times following demonetisation, I did not mind my small yet reluctant compromise.

Dangal has not only been praised for being a splendid sports-centric film but also has been appreciated for its strong feminist statement. However, some critics have made the valid point that the film has served to reaffirm a patriarchal society by putting forth a patriarchal wrestler’s efforts of fulfilling his dreams through his daughters, even when the daughters initially were not willing to fall in line.

It is a biopic. Veteran wrestler Mahavir Phogat dreams of having a son who would fulfill his dream of winning a gold medal in wrestling. But one after another he fathers four daughters. When he completely loses faith and hope, the aggression and fighting spirit of his two elder daughters, Geeta and Babita, reignites his dying ambition and despite all odds and despite his daughters’ initial resistance, he trains them hard to become successful wrestlers.

Now, if you know the rural Haryanvi patriarchal set up as I do, you would agree that if we want some very basic freedom of choice for our girls, we need a strong patriarch to support. And this is also a very pragmatic thought that if we want equal freedom of choice for our girls, then more than women, men have to be supportive and ‘feminist’. So, Mahavir Phogat’s one point focus of making his girls successful wrestler, is the decision of a patriarch which inadvertently sides with women lib and I would support such a patriarch any day than just crib about his dictatorial ways.

Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Pramod Thakur/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Aamir Khan plays wrestler Mahavir Phogat in Dangal

My objection to his dictatorial training is however on a different level. In almost all our sports centric movies we tend to promote the idea that a strict oppressive trainer can be a good coach and teacher (Remember Chak De India!), while the truth is that friendly, easy going coaches seem to have been more successful in bringing out the best in a sportsperson (eg Anil Kumble, Ravi Shastri). Maybe, our portrayal of teachers just reflects our own limitations in imparting education.

A brief portrayal of a teenage girl fresh out of a small village and the strict disciplinary father’s influence is par excellence. After a tiff and ego clash when father meets the eldest daughter and just asks “kaisi hai pahalwaan?” (how are you, wrestler?) my eyes could not contain tears as I could immediately identify with the feeling. As a frequently ailing child, my father used to keep up my fighting spirits by calling me Dara Singh and so do many fathers to keep up their child’s spirits

Coming back to the film. Of course it is Aamir Khan’s film. And he is a fabulous actor. The new girls as wrestlers (Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar) are also very impressive. But I would like to mention the narrator Onkar (Aparshakti Khurana) here, who not only has acted well, but also has provided comic relief even in otherwise tense moments.

Penned by four writers the script is tight, subtle and sans melodrama. A brief portrayal of a teenage girl fresh out of a small village and the strict disciplinary father’s influence is par excellence. After a tiff and ego clash when father meets the eldest daughter and just asks “kaisi hai pahalwaan?” (how are you wrestler?) my eyes could not contain tears as I could immediately identify with the feeling. As a frequently ailing child, my father used to keep up my fighting spirits by calling me Dara Singh and so do many fathers to keep up their child’s spirits. Simply put, this is a moving story of a daughter coming of age. And the father-daughter connection feels like a breath of fresh air in a film industry which is otherwise ridden with clichéd mother-son emotional bond. (remember—mere paas maa hai!)

Characterisation is marvelous and the choreography and designing of wrestling matches deserve special mention. They keep you on the edge by making you participate in them. Technically too, wrestling matches and training have been depicted accurately.

At the climax, when national anthem plays in the film, I looked around and to my delight, I found people overwhelmed, spell bound and some clapping but none caring to stand up.

That is where entertainment reflects true patriotism and scores over pseudo and flamboyant nationalism of mandatory anthem singing in cinema halls.

Pragati Saxena is a journalist based in Ghaziabad

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Published: 31 Dec 2016, 3:34 PM