Dangal- Somewhere between a gold and a silver

 Bollywood (and Kollywood)’s formula for a triumphal sports movie- talent identification, struggles by the sportsperson, intervention by personal coach, more struggles, selection for Nationals, National Coach’s incapability, Final match against never-smile-before foreign player, cameras at press meet flash, victory, shuns National Coach, rushes to see the personal coach.


Dangal (Wrestling Competition) is another sports film this year that Indian film industry has produced. A safe and decent film that has pretty much followed the formula stated above. In a time period where Bollywood has reiterated its lust and must for item numbers with the recent youtube releases- Haseeno from Kaabil and Laila from Raaes that has garnered almost 20 million views in 2 days, I am very much impressed that Dangal was made and released at this point of time.

Wrestling is a demanding sport and it demands the kind of biomechanical mastery that can only come from years of training, beginning from early childhood. To have recreated that level of mastery on screen by the 4 girls- Fatima (Elder daughter geeta), Zaira Wasim (the younger geeta), Sanya Malhotra (2nd daughter Babita) and Suhani Bhatnagar (younger Babita), is much commendable. For instance, Sanya whose wrestling portions barely appear on the screen for one minute, had to go through an aggressively intensive 9-month training- dropping to one knee in an attempt to fling back over the opponent’s head, reacting with lightning speed, executing exquisite coordination between every moving part of the body, developing brute strength and explosive power, understanding preternatural balance, increasing gymnastic agility and endurance. A Dangal is about that six minutes of incredible brutality where a single move can open itself to a hundred different possible permutations and combinations of counteraction.

This goes to say the kind of passionate actresses that we have, in Bollywood. The comfort at which they acted with Amir Khan, the looks on their faces that were filled with the rage of a savage beast and yet they were also filled with joy of their complete dominance in the sport- a performance that pinned us down with bliss and joy. "You do not batter your opponent into submission, like you would in boxing or mixed martial arts. You don't break ribs, pound heads, harm the kidney, dislocate the nose, or cut open the eyes. The surface you fight on is soft, so a fall doesn't hurt.” That is the unknown beauty of wrestling which I immensely enjoyed watching especially in the final sequences and in the scene where the old Amir Khan at the rooftop, explains the rules to his daughters. The writing was both simply sharp and sharply simple, that no other wrestling rules explanatory video would have done it.

Dangal is an utterly sincere and earnest work. Bollywood’s increasing love for sporting subjects has indeed brought women’s wrestling under the spotlight and more importantly, how a family in Haryana grappled with social issues to produce a slew of champions. In fact the most crucial dialogue in this film,  was ““A gold is a gold. How does it matter whether it comes from a girl or a boy?” That she was from Haryana, a state infamous for female foeticide, made her feat even more remarkable—however, the most significant statement was not explored in depth.


There was more telling, than revealing. It became repetitive and predictable. We all know that the girls would be victorious in the end. What happened in between, other than the structured common struggling episodes that we have seen in all the sports films- the lack of this made a void in this tale. It felt that Dangal had nothing new to offer. We need to feel the drive, the dedication, the sacrifices, the madness even that it takes, in a ghee-loving country, to consecrate one’s body to the pursuit of athletic excellence. We see a lot of this in Dangal. But we feel none of it. This prime purpose of sports film is to make us feel – all this emotion is the glue but somehow the anticipated narrative blurs the clean emotional lines and erodes our investment.

There are two issues in Dangal that kept bugging me. Is this film supposed to be a mere sports film celebrating wrestling and wrestlers or is this film meant to highlight the societal mindset, lack of governmental support in sports and other struggles faced by women wrestlers or another film to tell the already-suffering Indian kids, ‘shut up and listen to your papa?’


When Amir Khan’s wife worries, “what if someone breaks her arm?

Amir khan jokingly says “We will fix them.”

But how? What exactly happens when there is an injury? What are the emotional and psychological struggles that a woman sports player goes through? Probably in attempt to be as true to the original story, realism and cinematic drama quite suffered a lot like how the word ‘virginity’ suffered in the recent Salman Khan’s episode in Koffee with Karan season 5.

We have seen storylines where the sportswoman runs, jumps, carries weights, does one-arm push-ups in Mary Kom, Irudhi Sutru and Chak De. But what happens when they suffer from menstrual pain?  Do they keep training? How do they manage it? What do they do? What do they say? Since the family environment in Dangal had the ratio of more women (the mum and 4 girls), I thought somehow such taboo topics could have been part of the struggles. 

Mahavir (Aamir) and Geeta were locked in a fight and that was my favourite scene in the entire film. How many times in your lifetime would you ever get to see a daughter smashing her father?  Having learnt a new technique from her coach, is trying to prove how it’s better than the one Mahavir taught her. As they begin wrestling, Geeta starts dominating Mahavir and, in the end, defeats him – not because, as the scene shows, she’s more skillful, but because her father has become frail with age. Am sure as the naturally talented wrestler herself should have learnt or discovered something on her own- so what was that? Why was there nothing about her or her voice or her discoveries? She is shown as someone who would listen to her papa or the coach, dismisses one for the other and then goes back to the Papa.

The film then devotes a substantial amount of runtime in showing how Mahavir was right all along. Dangal’s fixated on convincing us that Mahavir can never be wrong, that the problem is always with Geeta. Glorifying the fact that whatever parents do, would eventually be good for the kids which may not be true all the time, Amir? Didn’t you teach us that in Taare Zameen Par and 3 idiots?

It’s a strange implication, underscored in scene after scene, that Geeta is nothing without her father, a man. It’s surprising, and rather unfortunate, that a film like Dangal, which sees itself as feminist, gives so little space to Geeta to be on her own – whether personally or professionally. It could have explored characters deeply and sensitively through tragedy and triumph but that it lacked an emotional deluge. It brought us to a ‘Tombe’ (a wrestling term that means a fall) I felt sad in the end because Dangal is such a promising film that could have slapped us that there is in fact a ‘her’ in ‘hero’.

Nevertheless, it is still a pretty decent film despite its flaws. Probably I have expected way too much after seeing the banner of Aamir Khan Productions!


(PS: There is another problem with Aamir Khan’s Films. There is this Tamil cinema actor called Surya whose hobby is to watch all aamir khan’s movies and try to remake them in Tamil. Since Dangal is a film where he can lose weight, gain them, build muscle, talk about women empowerment which he thinks he can. I am just afraid that he might remake this with his kambaramayanam-obsessed dad doing the poem recital voice-over at the background. )

Comments

  1. Don't worry Thala! We'll make a film in which the parents get it all wrong and the children help them to solve the problem :P
    And I really do hope Suriya doesn't remake Dangal though. What you described in the last para would be a nightmare!

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    1. it was dubbed in tamil so I guess we escaped!!

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