If I had seen Dangal last year, it would have easily blazed into my Top 30 list. Being a sport genre film, you will know what will transpire in the final climatic scene from a mile away, but it does hit all the usual tropes and emotional beats with verve and aplomb. The good ones in this genre know how to make the arduous learning journey resemble inspirational life lessons and will also make you feel vested in the story. This is not just a good one, it is a great one.
Dangal is a biographical sports drama film directed by Nitesh Tiwari. It stars Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat, who taught wrestling to his daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari. The former is India’s first female wrestler to win at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where she won the gold medal (55 kg). Her sister Babita Kumari won the silver (51 kg).
I have seen inspirational life-affirming stories like this but what makes Dangal stands out from the multitude is that it got all the basics right. The film never sermonises the age old themes like sexism, gender inequality and patriotism, instead it hits the usual repertoire of greatest hits with a deft balance. There was never any need to hammer some of the ideas into your consciousness like nails to a wall. It trusts us to understand the issues because so many predecessors have already done so. It just presents them in a refreshing way to make them come up smelling like roses. For example, in a scene where the sisters lament their father for forcing them to learn wrestling, their friend who is a young bride-to-be shares with them how she wishes she has a father like theirs. In that simple monologue, a light is shone on the plight of the female gender in India.
The film also got another aspect right – it manages to explain the sport with superb clarity, so much so that it almost feels like a wrestling 101 manual. It is never boring or preachy, and when the climax rolls in like the tide, you will smile gleefully because it has succeeded in actually making you feel smart. Talking about the climax, my wifey turned to me and whispered how the final bout would be won. I concurred and added that it will be underscored in extreme slow-mo. Of course, both of us were right. But the thing to remember is that even if we could guess it, it is always the mechanics behind we couldn’t see. By then we were so vested in the story we were welcoming the final scene with opened arms and warm streaming tears.
Dangal is also buoyed by convincing fight choreography and the wrestling sequences are well shot and without quick edits which are cheat-codes. You will believe the principals are wrestlers first and actors second. Fatima Sana Shaikh (Geeta) and Sanya Malhotra (Babita) are truly commendable in their roles. Even all the peripheral parts are well portrayed. That leaves Aamir Khan, who went over and above himself to turn in a superb performance and to think that he put on 38% body fat to play the role really made me want to salute him. But when I learned that he later went back to a lean mean fighting machine to play a much younger man in the initial part of the film, I wanted to bow down in front of the master.
This is one powder keg of a movie with loads of great humour and infectious music. It doesn’t matter that it is familiar because it feels like a great home-cooked meal and the Yoda-esque training lessons mirror what life throws at you. This one will definitely make you appreciate the sport that has been demonised and trivialised by WWF.
4 / 5
Aamir Khan – from fat to fit. What a professional!