Dangal Review: Aamir Khan’s Wrestle with Society

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Aamir Khan in 'Dangal'

Aamir Khan in ‘Dangal’

‘Dangal’ Review: Aamir Khan’s Wrestle with Society

To show ‘Dangal’ to any young girl is to hold up a mirror to her of her own potential. It is a story in which our young heroines don’t need rich, handsome princes in order to fulfill their destiny – they just nail success through their own sweat and struggles.  It is about carving your own future and not letting society tell you otherwise.  We can let our girls soar – or sear them with our stifling societal conventions.

It is particularly gratifying to know that this unlikely fairy-tale for girls is a true life story. Aamir Khan’s ‘Dangal’ is based on the real story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, an ex-wrestler who wanted to win gold for India but had to abandon his profession due to lack of financial support. His ‘junoon’ or passion was to have a son who could carry out his dream – but he had four daughters instead. He is hopeless until his daughters get into a brawl and beat up some village youths who were eve-teasing them. The revelation is life-changing – gold is gold, and it doesn’t matter whether a boy or a girl wins it.

One has to give credit to the real Mahavir Singh Phogat  – inhabitant of  a small village who thought more progressively than males in the big cities and whose daughters went on to become wrestling champions. One follows the hapless sacrifices of the two sisters Geeta, 14,  and Babita, 12, whose long hair is chopped off, who have to  give up their salwar kameezs for shorts to grapple in the mud with feisty boys, unheard behavior in the villages.  Geeta and Babita don’t appreciate the maniacal training and discipline of their father at first until a 14-year-old friend who is being married off to a man she has never seen, makes them realize how fortunate they are that at least their father cares enough to have such dreams for them, rather than casting them off as burdens to early marriages and motherhood. In that one moment of clarity, Geeta and Babita realize the essence of their father’s madness and that their own salvation lies in the success of his dream.

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan

There’s not one false note  in ‘Dangal’ and it holds you emotionally from beginning to end. You care about Phogat, his dreams and his family and that is because of the superlative performances, a slice of real life.  Aamir Khan plays the fading wrestler, his dreams and medals packed away in a rusty metal trunk, until his daughters become the means for wrestling gold. Aamir Khan is at the top of his form, as he goes from a brawny young fighter to an ex-wrestler with a tired, bulky body.  The best thing about Aamir is his subdued celebrity – he is not Aamir Khan playing a grizzled, aging father  – he is a grizzled, aging father struggling to help his daughters succeed in a man’s world.

Real life and real life 'Dangal'

Real life and real life ‘Dangal’

The actresses who play Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh) and Babita (Sanya Malhotra) are excellent as are the ones who play their younger versions – Zaira Wasim, and Suhani Bhatnagar. All flawless performances. The wrestling scenes are perfectly done and you find yourself on the edge of the seat. The villagers – all characters affectionately etched  –  and  Sakshi Tanwar as Aamir’s wife enrich the fabric of the story.  It is a totally focused tale – completely engrossing and feel good.

Some critics have said that in the end even though it is a feminist film, the changes are still brought about in the girls’ lives by the patriarch of the family and that they don’t have much say in their own future.  One has to remember this is a film based on a real incident and this is the way it played out for the Phogat family. Yet the very fact that these girls were plunged into a different life by whichever means showed them there is a choice. It may make fathers in the future more open to alternate lives for their daughters.

In ‘Dangal’, right from the music, the vibrancy of the Haryanvi tongue to the rustic sets, there is a great love for the Indian milieu and it hits all the right chords. The direction by Nitesh Tiwari is excellent. It is a very believable tale set in rural India where the lives of Geeta and Babita Phogat and their revolutionary father can now start conversations and change lives.

It’s a movie you can sit back and enjoy and let the Haryanvi tongue wash over you as you enter a different world, a world which seems true and authentic.  Rarely have I been so excited about a sports film – but then ‘Dangal’ is so much more; in subtle ways it wrestles with society, with the way girls are perceived, the way struggling athletes are treated – it takes on big issues and you hardly realize it. A wonderful true story and in the hands of Aamir Khan, it is a wonderful movie.

Scenes from 'Dangal'

Scenes from ‘Dangal’

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

9 Comments

  1. Sufia Huda via Facebook

    Mind blowing movie. Was very uncomfortable sitting in the front row but, once movie started all that vanished. Incredible movie. Absolutely Stupendous

  2. Loved your perspective! The one fact you’ve pointed out so clearly that at least future fathers would be open to accepting alternate career choices for their girls is a wonderful way of looking at things when everyone else is looking at the fact that the “poor girls were not given a choice.” I believe even if it was Mr. Phogat’s dream and he pushed his daughters towards it, he made something out of them. How many fathers, even today, can say “medal toh medal hai, beta laaye ya beti kya farak padta hai.”

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