Verdict: We have a winner!
2016 has not been a great year for Bollywood.
A lot of films had Indians tweeting and posting in anticipation– Fan, Rustom, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Shivaay – but they didn’t manage to live up to the often-unrealistic expectations of Bollywood fans. Sultan is probably the only film that released this year that didn’t have its audiences leaving the cinemas feeling a tad let-down.
Dangal has managed to put a happy end to a year that gave us a lot to cry about (at the movies and especially outside!). Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, starring the consistently great Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, and a fresh-faced cast, this film has a whole lot going for it. And in what must be termed a Christmas miracle in Bollywood, it fritters none of it away. The film was inspired by wrestler Geeta Phogat winning her first international gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and the story of her life. While her life has been fictionalized to some extent, as the credits disclaim, the film does create a credible and engaging backstory for her.
The first half is about what happens when Mahavir Singh Phogat, a National level, retired wrestler (played by Aamir Khan), decides to train his daughters in pehelwani, in a state where girls of 14 are usually married off to domestic hell. He had dreams of achieving an international gold for India, which he’d planned to pass on to his son, and when no son made an appearance, to his unwilling daughters. Young Geeta (Zaira Wasim) and Babita (Suhani Bhatnagar) try to follow in their determined father’s footsteps, but with little enthusiasm. The girls’ resistance, their shame, their realization of their good fortune, and the ensuing determination are the arc of this half. Zaira is outstanding as young Geeta, especially in the scene in which her father has her hair cut off, as it poses a distraction from training. Sakshi Tanwar is doing what she does best, as the dutiful and loving mother. Rohit Shankarwar is the other bright spark in this half, playing their cousin, who narrates the whole story, as he supports them in their journey. His comic timing and easy charm are impressive, and here’s hoping we see more if it in the future.
After intermission, the journey of the adult Geeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh), after winning the Nationals, unfolds. The talented wrestler is away from home and the strict guidance of her father for the first time, and starts to lose her way and many international matches. How she strays, falls and finds her way back into the fold is what this half is all about. This part also has that one clichéd character in the movie – the under-achieving, passive-aggressive coach who Geeta trains under, at the National Sports Academy. But every film needs an antagonist, and he does nicely for this story, bringing in the necessary conflicts without getting too sinister.
Dangal is a delight, almost from the start (Vivan Bhatena puts in a somewhat cringe-worthy cameo). The background score elevates the scenes that could have gotten too depressing with different music direction. The songs work beautifully in the context of the film. The performances by the child actors and the adults are laudable, including of course, Aamir Khan, who has made brilliance a habit, so it passes unremarked. The real triumph of the movie are the screenplay and narrative style. There isn’t a dull minute in the 2 hours 41 minutes of the film, and kudos to the writers for pulling that off. Nitesh Tiwari must be credited for his storytelling and the light-hearted treatment that makes even the most disturbing subjects palatable.
If we must nitpick, we can say that the dialogues stop just short of being great. No one line or scene stays with you (like Caesar’s “No” in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or “Sattar minute” from Chak De! India). What does stay with you is the title track and a sense of empowerment, which is what the cinematic Geeta Phogat stands for.
Dangal truly deserved the standing ovation it got at the end.
Why You Should Watch This Movie:
Rarely does a Hindi film come along that is pleasing on every front – from performances to script to music. And contrary to what people may think, this is not a lecture on women empowerment. It is a film that is entertaining as it is enlightening, and definitely one the whole family can and should watch.