In what was probably my most favourite scene of Dangal, Mahavir’s daughter Geeta temporarily returns home after a training stint with her new coach and teammates. The newfound freedom largely brought about by the absence of her father has changed her worldviews. She has returned with new knowledge and wrestling techniques.
As she attempts to demonstrate these tactics (not necessarily compatible with her father’s teachings) to her younger sister, she and her father end up wrestling each other in a sandpit. The ‘match’ comes to an inevitable end but the conflict between them, driven by pride and ego, remains unresolved. The silence that trails their relationship following that altercation is deafening and reflective of the complexity of modern father-daughter relationships.
Dangal (inspired by a true story) is more than just about a father’s desire to ensure that his daughters win a gold medal in wrestling for India. Dangal does not just choose to highlight the plight of women who want to take up predominantly male dominated sports such as wrestling but it also surfaces the sacrifices, trials and tribulations which the parents of these female athletes have to undergo.
As I watched Aamir Khan essay his role as the ambitious father, Mahavir, in Dangal, I could not help but draw parallels between his character and my own father. There is finally a movie that seems to realistically portray father-daughter relationships. Mahavir is not the overly protective father, the overly obliging father or the villainous father that we have become so accustomed to seeing in Indian films. In this film, Mahavir is the flawed but loving father that I could identify with.
Mahavir is the Indian father who never quite realises how strong daughters can be until he has his own. Mahavir is the father who feels insecure when his daughter grows up and sets out into the world. Mahavir is the father who is afraid of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of his daughters whom he has built his whole world around. Ultimately, Mahavir is the father who realises that teaching your daughters to be independent and strong is important even if it is frowned upon by society.
Aamir Khan’s performance in Dangal is top notch and it is so because, for a large part of the film, he seems content with taking the backseat and just steering the story along. You feel his presence throughout the movie even when he doesn’t appear in a scene. Aamir Khan invites the audience to embark on an emotional journey during which we are given a glimpse into the mind of a stoic father who on many occasions seems to have trouble telling his daughters how much he loves them.
But we know very well that Mahavir loves Geeta and Babita simply from his body language.
The 51-year-old actor has also put in a whopping amount of effort into his physique. Whether as the aged father or the young wrestler, the physical transformation is significant and he deserves applause for that. The actresses Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra who play the roles of Mahavir’s daughters, Geeta and Babita respectively, have also done justice to their parts diligently. There is an unmissable spark in Fatima. Watch out for the scene where she places a phone call to her estranged father – it had me in tears.
Director Nitesh Tiwari has done a wonderful job of storytelling. I am sure that he has taken some cinematic liberties, especially in the wrestling sequences, but they do add to the overall feel of the movie. That aside, I will also admit that I am one of those moviegoers who does not really appreciate fight sequences. But for the first time ever, the wrestling matches which were played out on screen had me captivated. There were also sufficient measured twists and turns in the plot to make the sports film an interesting watch.
Dangal is ultimately a movie about belief. Dangal is a movie about a father’s faith in his daughters and eventually a daughter’s faith in her father. Dangal is a movie about a father who starts out by believing that he can only be a coach or a father to his daughters at any one time but eventually realises that he possesses the capacity and the need to be both at the same time. Dangal is not just a movie about wrestling visible opponents but about fighting the invisible ones too.
Dangal hinges on its brilliant storytelling and the down to earth acting prowesses of the stellar cast. In my opinion, Dangal is the best Bollywood film of 2016. Go catch it in theatres if you haven’t watched it yet! Oh, and do bring a box of tissues with you.