Sports biopics are a successful formula in Hollywood. Bollywood, on the other hand, is a different ball game altogether. What sells is the family drama, cheap entertainment, run-of-the-mill romance and, of course, Salman Khan. Sports biopics have never been very popular either amongst directors or audiences, barring a few notable exceptions. Mary Kom, MS Dhoni are some of the obvious names that deserve a mention. The latest addition to the list is Dangal that has turned wrestling into an on-screen entertainment.
Dangal is based on the same theme as of Sultan. What sets them apart is not only the real versus fictionalized account but the difference in tone and narrative as well.
Dangal is inspired by the life stories of Geeta Singh Phogat and Babita Singh Phogat who brought laurels to the country in the international wrestling championship. The movie opens with Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan), a stereotypical dictator ‘tau’ with a paunch. The audience sees him musing about his old days as a wrestling champion and planning about turning his yet to be born sons into wrestling champions.
His dream of winning the gold medal for his country turns to ashes when four girls are born into his family. Sadness gives way to renewed determination when the realization dawns on him that gold is gold and can be won by a woman as well.
He fights his wife, tolerates the rebuke of the entire village. He indulges his obsession of turning his daughters into wrestlers and begins their stringent training.
The first half of the movie smoothly and skilfully captures the journey of Geeta and Babita from being the reluctant girls who beg their father not to turn them into a laughing stock to defeating local male ‘pahalwans’ one after another.
The audience sees the grit and determination that goes into the training of Geeta and Babita along with the incapacitating attitudes that work against women. He is condemned by the entire village when he forces his daughters to wear shorts and run across the village and get training. His own daughters, Geeta and Babita, see their father as a crazy man who instead of letting them do household chores, dictates them to fight with men (and thus comes the infamous song, ‘Hanikarak Bapu’). Before achieving anything, Geeta and Babita have to overcome their own conditioning.
They are also in a way, an alter-ego of Aarfa (Anushka Sharma) in Sultan and show what a life could be, if only women are given a chance to prove themselves.
While the first half of the movie is riveting and fascinating, the movie in the beginning of the second half starts to fall apart. For the time being, it stumbles into usual Bollywood misty-eyed drama where one daughter challenges the techniques and authority of the father and the other defends him and thus, begins her downfall. Thankfully, the movie picks up again, however, not without making a statement that it is the old man who knows the best.
Amongst all the intense drama, the comic relief is brought in by the cousin of Geeta and Babita. With his witty one-liners, he constantly lightens the mood of the audience.
In spite of having a strong story line, the movie inevitably falls into all known patterns of Bollywood where the villain is inevitable. In this case, it’s the coach who turns out to be nothing but a big fat egoistic buffoon and resorts to backbiting, taking undue praise, playing puerile tricks etc.
The movie makes a strong feminist statement and depicts how women have to fight double as hard as men to leave their mark in a sport which has traditionally been a stronghold of men. One particular scene depicts Geeta and Babita looking longingly at the picture of a synthetic mat as they could not afford to buy one.
Despite this, the movie at places seems to reinforce another kind of stereotypes that seems to be saying that women cannot have it all.
To achieve the world fame, they have to cut their hair, discard all feminine things like going to weddings, dancing etc. Getting back into the feminine fold proves to be an ultimate disaster for Geeta. Geeta can’t be both feminine and a wrestler.
Though the movie is not perfect and stretches for more than two and a half hours, this is one of the best movies of this year. Aamir Khan remains a lead character but the movie stops from turning too much about him and gives space to the female lead characters to evolve on their own. Songs are completely enmeshed into the narrative and fit into the entire structure. No dreamy sequence, sad longing song probably turns out to be one of the best features of the movie.
Unlike Sultan, Dangal is actually about wrestling and doesn’t descend into romantic wish fulfillment. It carefully avoids from falling into the danger of romanticizing the lives of the female wrestlers so as to overshadow their staggering achievements.
Although it’s one of the best performances of Aamir Khan, the movie in no way overshadows the role and performance of other characters including the mother and the cousin and of course, the female wrestling-duo. The movie attains the difficult task of being real (with good wrestling moves) and entertaining at the same time.
In one line, Dangal is one of the best sports biopics made in Bollywood and is way more entertaining than Sultan.