Sunday, January 01, 2017

Movie Review: Dangal

Dangal was a great way to cap my movie going experience for 2016... the heartwarming story of 2 young girls from the dusty plains of Haryana on their quest for sporting glory for India. Under the almost-fanatical coaching of their father, a wrestler himself, Geeta and Babita Phogat break countless stereotypes and traditions along the way - from fighting with boys in the arena, they steadily prove their worth at the state level, then at the nationals, finally fulfilling their father's dream when Geeta wins gold at the Commonwealth games in Delhi.

The star of the movie was undoubtedly the very smart and talented Fatima Sana Shaikh, who pulled off the wrestling scenes effortlessly and beautifully; and I am sure Geeta would have been proud! Fatima is ably supported by the other girls, Sanya Malhotra (Babita), Zaira Wasim (the extremely cute young Geeta) and Suhani Bhatnagar (young Babita), as well as Ritwik Sahore (young Omkar). Aamir gets my huge appreciation for his commitment to the project, putting on dozens of kilos for his role as the older Mahavir, and the transformation from the muscled younger Mahavir is jaw dropping! The rest of the cast - Girish Kulkarni as the coach, Aparshakti Khurana as Omkar and Sakshi Tanwar as Mahavir's wife, is also spot on.

The best part of the movie? The wrestling scenes. Shot beautifully, executed perfectly, with a great sound track, and adequate technical background, it never fails to grab your undivided attention. And when Geeta wins the CWG gold and the national anthem plays in the stadium, it's beautiful to experience how the audience in the theater spontaneously stands up in respect to the flag. Something you cannot miss, so go watch the movie only in the theatres!

There are quite a few beautifully rendered songs too, and they stay with you long after the movie ends. Gilehriyaan ( is definitely my favorite, but there are other gems too - and they go extremely well with the visuals! Haanikarak Bapu is a lot of fun and Dhakkad will inspire millions of girls!

That said, the movie does raise a couple of uncomfortable questions. (Warning - story spoilers coming up)

For one, for a movie that is almost a biopic on Geeta and Babita (irrespective of the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie), there are far too many liberties taken on authenticity. The CWG gold wasn't Geeta's first international gold. The entire incident of the father being locked out by the coach is fictional. Even the final match itself was an easy peasy win for Geeta, not the edge of the seat thriller it is made out to be. I believe you should make honest movies, or entertaining movies, but Dangal takes too many liberties with truth, in the process probably hurting a lot of people (like Geeta's real life coach!).

The second question has nothing to do with the movie, but with the situation Geeta and Babita found themselves in (as characters in the fictional movie, or in reality if it was true). It is true that their father dreamed bigger things for them, in a time and land where girls were married off as soon as they hit puberty. However, one begs the question - would he have done the same if he had a son? Was he not selfish to pursue his own dream of gold through his daughters, never giving them a choice in the matter? Was it fair to make them fight wrestling, a very intimate contact sport, with boys? What if one of them wanted to be a doctor, or pursue any other sport? If they hadn't gone on to be successful on national/international stage, would we still hold Mahavir in such high esteem? What message does it send to millions of Indian parents? That it's OK to use your children to pursue your dreams? That they don't have a choice in the matter?

Important questions, but an excellent movie nevertheless. Do watch it, in the theaters!

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