Wrestling with society…Dangal delivers

There is a scene in Dangal- the whole village is waiting for the birth of Mahavir Phogat’s 2nd child. They have all given the couple various ideas to beget a boy and are waiting for results. One man has a box of sweets open,ready for distribution and when the midwife announces it’s a girl, he shuts the box down.

For me, there was no more honest depiction of reality than this. Across the cow belt, the birth of a girl is rarely celebrated. When Divya was born, in one of Delhi’s top hospitals mind you, none of the staff came to take bakshish or ask for “mithai”, one told my mum as she tried to give her some money “Amma, paisey jodna shuru karo, laundiya ka byah dekhtey dekhtey paas aajaayega!”

Dangal, based on the life of Mahavir Phogat, a wrestler who wants to live his dream thru his children is masterful. Phogat’s journey has all the ingredients of a epic movie. In the dangal_posterlast few years, Mary Kom, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Azhar & Dhoni have all brought on screen the tales of India’s sporting icons. But what sets Dangal apart, is not just that it is not the story of the sport stars, but of their dogged father. At no point in the movie, do we lose sight of that. And Nitesh Tiwari does us all a favour by not romanticising any of the characters in the movie- thankfully there are no love interests, song sequences or soul full speeches that distract from the main story line.

Nitesh Tiwari’s story and screenplay stay true the whole time, in rural Haryana, one can imagine a wrestler desperate for a son, trying 4 times. The scene where he takes down the medals and certificates from the wall, was masterful. Sakshi Tanwar’s portrayal of a wife, constantly apologetic is authentic. Her dark circles, unglamourous look and the pokey house are so familiar.  Aamir’s physical appearance is so authentic, that you cannot even connect his Phogat character to Rancho or Samar. The dusty streets, the government school, the brown sweatered older men of the village are recognisable. And more importantly, the attention to detail in checked salwar kamiz uniform of the girl’s school, to the absence of women in most of the sequences within the village was perfect. Go to any village in rural Haryana, you are unlikely to find women in the streets- no “Basanti’s” in bright yellow ghagra here!

The realisation that Phogat has that his girls can win medals too, his focus in training them and his harsh regime, the girls reluctance and unhappiness in pursuing a “male” sport but their fear of their father stopping them from articulating it is well done.

Full marks to Aamir for making the physical transformation to suit the character, his accent, diction and expressions are just awesome. He looks the part, warts and all- which is great! His portrayal of Bhuvan in Lagaan missed this authenticity, his language and diction that film were way off.

The girls, Gita and Babita, were just amazing- the younger ones so real that I do not believe they were not from Bilali and the adult Gita was fearsome, her craft perfect.

But the star of the show was Ritwik Sahore as the younger Omkar, the girl’s cousin and wrestling sidekick. He added a levity to some scenes that stopped this movie from being too heavy. The adult Omkar also did well, holding his own against the riveting performance from Aamir, Gita and Sakshi.

A few jarring moments in the film- the monologue from the girl’s’ friend getting married off- while it is real, did not need that being rubbed in and the totally unnecessary locking up dad sequence at the end, thankfully the temptation to dramatically kill him off was resisted. The antagonistic coach was overdone, with no background on why he was being so obstructionist. 

Pritam’s score was once again repetitive, but the title track was great. Cinematography was good, not great, some opportunities lost in making the most of wrestling pits and locations.

But what stood out was the silent messaging. Reality- Haryana does have a woeful gender ratio. That a Jat father fought all precedence and drove his girls to take up male dominated sport is noteworthy. At no point does he indicate that he is doing the girls a favour- “letting them” indulge in this sport. His unstinting and harsh pursuit of victory for them, gets them to a world stage and achieve something that is theirs alone. And in doing this, stereotypes are broken and other girls can now emulate.

A message to all the Whatsapper’s who sent around messages about Aamir’s mixed signals from 3 Idiots, TZP and PK to Dangal- It’s a movie guys- Aamir is not telling you to follow your heart, paint all day or go around with a transistor…..he’s an actor not a guru!

Rating: 4.9/5