Expectations are always high from a film when Aamir Khan’s name is associated to it. His latest, Nitesh Tiwari's Dangal is bound to draw in big crowds as it is not only one of the biggest releases of the year but also an Aamir Khan film. But while the film may draw crowds because of a star and his amazing physical transformation for a role, it is the story that is far greater than the actors associated to it.
*The story has spoilers.
A story about a father’s relentless struggle to make his daughters greatest wrestlers of the country, Dangal is based on Commonwealth Gold Medalist Geeta Phogat and her father Mahavir Singh Phogat’s life. Most of us are aware of the story – yet it is a compelling film that can serve as a text book example on how a biopic should be made. Dangal, with its smart writing, touches upon a lot of issues that remain a sore point in our country.
The story is based in Haryana, a state notorious for its treatment of women, where Mahavir Phogat raised his daughters to become stronger than most men in the village and made them world champions. In a poignant scene in the film, young Geeta and Babita are seen complaining to their friend, who is to be married off the next day, that they wish they never had a father like Mahavir Phogat. The child-bride listens with a sullen face only to interrupt them and state how she wished she had a father like theirs who would take onus of raising his daughter the right way and not marry her off. The scene is a defining one where the two girls, who are tired of vigorous training they are subjected to every day, get a fresh perspective about the greatness of their father.
It’s a simple scene but it highlights brilliantly the irony of the situation. Where one daughter complains that her father doesn’t treat her as a human, and the other complains about how he is hell bent on making them into wrestlers. In a country, where women are still not treated equally, especially in smaller towns and rural areas and where the yearning to have a son, an heir, is still a common thought in a lot of families, Mahavir Phogat’s story is heartening. It gives us more women to idealize, to emulate – it gives hopes to scores of households where the woman is often taunted for not bearing a son.
Wrestling is the fulcrum of Dangal. A sport that finds its mention in the vedas, and is being practiced in several parts of rural northern India for years, strangely is not the most popular sport. The cricket obsessed country only understands one sport and obsesses over it. So it is pertinent for a star like Aamir Khan to show the country a sport that the country is known for internationally. Making a sports based film is never easy and one always has to keep a check on getting the techniques right as well as to make it an entertaining watch. Dangal easily manages to strike that balance. Sprinkled with humour, the film gives a glimpse on the hard work that goes into becoming a champion in any sport. Unlike Salman Khan in Sultan, who overnight becomes a world champion, an Olympic gold medalist and wins the heart of the girl he pines for, Dangal gives a real picture where the main characters are shown to go through several failures before reaching the top. Funds aren’t adequate for training, bad coach, lack of exposure- all these are integral part of any sportsperson’s journey in the country and such things are not always addressed in a sports dramas that are made in Bollywood. But Dangal, in subtle, nuanced way highlights all these aspects that made Phogat sisters the greatest wrestlers of the country. In reality, it’s never an easy ride to the top but somehow Bollywood tends to skip the grime and just paint the rosy picture in most of its films.
While the film is about a father-daughter relationship and about a long forgotten sport, it also beautifully evokes a sense of pride in one’s country and the immense talent it has to offer. If 2016 has been the year of the patriot, where one has had to wear nationalism on one’s sleeve, Dangal should ideally be the film that promotes this theme. You may be distraught with the government and its recent diktats, but you will tear up in joy and pride as Geeta clenches the gold after a tight match. You will want to cheer loudly for the underdog from Bilali village in Bhiwani District of Haryana. You may not feel patriotic at the beginning of the film when you are asked to stand up for the national anthem, but you will find yourself standing at the end and cheering for the country.
Without being jingoistic, with sly humour abundantly thrown in the script and with a compelling, inspiring story – Dangal is the film that India needs right now. To get rid of the weariness, to feel motivated and be proud of the country that we live in.