Dangal (2016)

I went in to watch Dangal, three weeks late, and I’m glad that I did not miss the film, while it was still screening at the theatres. Dangal has already reached its peak and the film is performing well at the theatres. It has proved to be a film which is both critically and publicly acclaimed, as is the case with most of Aamir Khan’s film. Dangal, at its core, is about – sports and its spirit. And nowhere in the film will one find that spirit diminishing.

Dangal is also a story about a father, determined to see his daughters name do rounds in the international wrestling circuit. For this very reason, Dangal works on two levels. Along with all the sports and father-daughter spirit, it also makes a strong feminist statement about girls being just as good as boys (if not better) in what has traditionally been the stomping ground of men.

The pressure of earning for the family is still a very real problem, and Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a Hariyanvi Jaat, is faced with the same problem even after becoming the national champion in wrestling. After leaving wrestling, he makes it his life motto to train his yet-to-be-born son and make him a international champion in wrestling. But when his wife delivers the first girl, Mahavir is little disappointed, only to realise the truth later. After the realisation, both Mahavir & the girls are unstoppable.

Co-written and directed by Nitesh Tiwari, Dangal remains true to the life of their actual characters. Though threre are some scenes added to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, the film’s overall appeal can never be denied. The girls are put through rigorous training, the sniggering from a chauvinistic society, the clashes with sports authorities, and the thrilling, nail-biting bouts all ring true without a hint of artifice. There are layers too, if you seek them. One of the best bits in the film is a scene in which Mahavir and Geeta wrestle. On the face of it, it’s just that – father vs daughter. But beneath the surface it is so much more.

But having said that, I would say that the film also has a few occasional bumps, and they stick out like blemish on a white surface. I couldn’t get over the shoddy characterization of the National Sports Academy coach (played by a grossly underutilized Girish Kulkarni) who is portrayed as a evil villain. I also couldn’t for the life of me buy into a twist in the film’s final act which came off as completely unconvincing.

I’m also not very happy with the film’s casting of the girls in Dangal. Geeta looks more-than-required posh (read fair) in both the younger and the older versions. The auditory and the visual appearance of the character had a constant struggle with each other, though she portrays her character with the right balance of youthful innocence and steely grit. Even Aamir Khan look a bit out of the place playing the younger version of Mahavir Singh Phogat. In a brief scene where he’s handed the decision of discontinuing wrestling by his father, Aamir looks more like P.K. than Mahavir.

But, when onscreen Phogat enters his forties, there is no denial of the fact that there sprouts an incredible performance by Aamir Khan, who doesn’t just play Mahavir he becomes him. There isn’t a hint of vanity in Aamir’s portrayal of this overweight, ageing man, and you understand what drives him and you forgive him his methods. Underneath the tough exterior, Aamir imbues Mahavir with a tenderness that occasionally slips through.

At this time, I must put in a word here also for Ritwik Sahore who plays their cousin Omkar, and the source of much amusement in the film, courtesy his role as a reluctant sparring partner for the girls in their growing up years. Aparshakti Khurrana plays the older Omkar, and he’s terrific too, bringing humor in unlikely places.

I’m going with 4/5 stars for Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal. It’s not a perfect film, but then in this plethora of bad films, its a long and fresh breath of air. A solid and satisfying watch.