Dangal - Review
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Just the number of social topics that Dangal touches upon could've worked against the film. Many a film that has tried this, has suffered from spreading itself too thin for its own good. But Dangal builds one theme on another relentlessly. It even lets some of them run in parallel - all without losing sight of any single one – at the same time it creates and retains my interest in a sport, the existence of which is otherwise incomprehensible to me.
This is not to say that it is not as predictable as any underdog story. That it is. In fact, you know how the last fight will end, and when the national anthem plays at the beginning you get an inkling of exactly how the audience is expected to react to that last fight. The beauty is that I didn't mind it. I didn't mind the precious run-time spent on the usual rigorous training montages that go with this genre. I didn't mind the usual “success goes to underdog's head” phase. I didn't mind the occasional slack in pace. I didn't mind sitting through almost an hour of only and only – wrestling matches. This is so because at any given point there are lots of things at play and they all weave together seamlessly.
In fact, all my apprehensions - about an Aamir Khan film becoming more about Aamir Khan than the subject matter that he has taken to heart - melted with the first two scenes. The humor took me in. Sure, the laughs don't stay long. They dissipate along with Mahavir Singh Phogat's (Aamir Khan) hopes of having a son. But, stronger themes like passion, woman empowerment, angst against system, take hold – none of which are new, but all are sewed together into a story that make you root for its protagonist.
The protagonist here is not Mahavir Singh Phogat, it is his daughter – Geeta Kumari Phogat (Zaira Wasim followed by Fatima Sana Shaikh). You empathise with her when her dad's aspirations are forced on her, you sympathise with her when she tries to wing out of her father's shadow. For a lot of the journey, even though Mahavir Phogat is in the scene, your focus is on her.
It is a pleasant surprise to see Aamir Khan let the other characters take center stage - even if it is a side character like Mahavir's wife or his nephew – while he maintains his own screen presence.. The actor himself does well from being athletic to pot-bellied. It is almost as if he shot the younger-Mahavir scenes while he was shooting for Dhoom 3. Physique aside, we completely register Mahavir's frustration, anger, joy, conceit, hurt ego, pride. Some parts even convince you that the actor might be this tyrannical in real life too.
The rest of the cast – including Fatima Sana Shaikh – are all so refreshing. From Sakshi Tanwar to Girish Kulkarni to Sanya Malhotra to Aparshakti Khurrana (Thank you, @Minu Nair for the name!) - they all fit in perfectly. It is exhilirating that off late, across films, actors are getting better and better at their jobs, even if the other departments of the film fail them. Fortunately, that's not true of Dangal.
From the diet consultants to prosthetics (maybe?), from the dialect tutors to the writing department, from the fight choreographers to the music and lyrics, and a lot in between – all work in sync and towards one goal, that of making a good, focused film. Sure, the music might not have repeat listening value, but it works beautifully within the context of the film.
Above all, it is held together by the writing department. At its root, Dangal is a sports story that spends a lot of time on the back-story. But equally strong is its theme of enabling women. While some of the “tips” to have a boy might amuse us as city-dwellers, I have been told some even more ridiculous tricks to make sure I have a son. It is difficult to shrug it away as funny when I know people who haven't been able to get away with having “just” daughters.
It adds on the philosophy of “perspective” through the plight of a young 14-year old girl who's being married off. While still on the issue of exasperating, gender-related bias, the movie manages to comment on how something that makes business sense goes through despite societal outrage against wrestling girls. It is almost amusing that the movie turns a house of woman objectification into a study room to empower a woman.
Closer to home, a parenting struggle that I go through day in and day out is brought to the fore. To push a child beyond her breaking point so that she achieves what I see as her potential or to let her be and blossom the way her personality drives her? What takes priority – my son losing his childhood to achieve greatness or him taking his time to figure out if he wants anything extra-ordinary for himself?
As their characters build in the story, you wonder whether the clash is between father and daughter as personalities or whether it is that between a usual, teenage know-it-all and an obstinate, aging old man. While Mahavir claims that he passed on his wrestling genes to his daughters, is he aware that he passed on his egoistic genes too. He might be passionate about the sport and acing the sport for his country. But is she? For her it might just be about proving her father wrong – or right.
Dangal hits such a sweet blow on the situation of sports in the country. While it seems like it is a contest between national-coach and father-coach, it is actually a comment on how inadequate the coach appointed by the ministry truly is.
Sure, some of these story elements might have been dramatised to arouse these particular emotions. Fortunately, the drama is kept at its minimal. I'll leave the thought, “Why do filmmakers think even that much drama is necessary?” to another day.
As if this weren't enough, one tiny directorial decision wins the movie for me. In the moment when an underdog needs inspiration, he/she sees a montage of flashbacks and hears quotable quotes that he/she has heard recently in the film. These quotes in hindsight seem like they were placed to inspire at precisely that right moment. No, of course not, Dangal doesn't skip this moment. But, the montage of flashbacks it uses are things, we as an audience, haven't seen earlier. Not all of them are those that were shown to us, just a few minutes ago. They are things that happened years ago in the characters life, that we weren't made privy to. This is so rare in films (not just Hindi films), that I can't resist this extra 150-word paragraph. Yes, it is not remotely enough to make a film “great”, but it makes me “love” a film from “liking it a lot”.
Beyond this, Dangal made me look forward to the next wrestling match, even if it were in a film. It doesn't go all technical on me, but I get the rules and my heartbeats fluctuate with Geeta's wins and losses. It is amusing, if not a shame that a cricket analogy had to be used to make a point. But, it brings home the point that whether or not the characters are able to pronounce the word, any sport is made lovable for its “strategy” more than the strength required to win – a strategy that willingly goes for a hand-to-hand battle with bad luck.
I am so glad that my skepticism of Aamir Khan films has been proven wrong. Whether or not I agree with Mahavir's parenting, I will watch this one again with my kids - soon.
- meeta, a part of the audience
- Violence: If the sport seems violent too, then yes.
- Language: Clean
- Nudity & Sexual content: None.
- Concept: Underdog film.
- General Look and Feel: A slick sports film.
Dangal - Movie Details
- Official Sites: Facebook Twitter YouTube Wikipedia IMDB
- Banner: Disney India Studio, Aamir Khan Productions
- Producer: Siddharth Roy Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao
- Director: Nitesh Tiwari
- Lead Cast: Aamir Khan, Sanya Malhotra
- Supporting Cast: Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sakshi Tanwar, Suhani Bhatnagar, Zaira Wasim, Girish Kulkarni, Aparshakti Khurrana, Ritvik Sahore
- Story: Nikhil Mehrotra, Shreyas Jain, Piyush Gupta, Nitesh Tiwari
- Cinematography: Setu
- Editor: Ballu Saluja
- Music Director: Pritam Chakraborty
- Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
- Costume Designer: Maxima Basu
- Facebook Page: Link
- Running time: 160 minutes
- Reviewer: meeta
- Language: Hindi
- Country: India
- Genres: Family, Relationships, Social, Sports
Dangal - Trailer
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