Movie Review: Dangal
Somewhere in the course of the story, there is a wrestling match where Geeta Phogat is playing against a Nigerian wrestler. It is the semifinals of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where Geeta had gone on to win the gold. If you have been a reasonably aware person you will know you that Geeta was the Champion and that would mean she had won the semi-final match. And yet, when Fatima Sana Shaikh, who plays Geeta in the film, tackles the moves of the Nigerian opponent the entire theater breathed heavy, with anxiety. I did too, despite knowing at the back of my mind that Geeta would be winning the bout. The anticipation was immense.
That’s the drama that director Nitesh Tiwari manages to pull off with Dangal. From the point of view of emotions, Dangal is every bit the film that you would want to watch. It makes you laugh, makes you sad… and most importantly it inspires you.
The film presents the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, a well-known wrestler of his time. Although he had to give up amateur wrestling in favour of a job so that he could fend for his family, Phogat refused to stop dreaming of the international gold medal. He hoped his sons achieve what he could not. But he never had a son and hence trained his daughters instead to become champions. In doing so he faced hurdles of all kind – financial and societal. All of this is true and Dangal showcases the heroics in all splendor.
Dangal, however, is not the perfect biopic. There is plate right at the beginning of the film which states that Dangal is inspired by the life of Mahavir Phogat and his daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat. For cinematic purposes, the writers have used a number of fictional incidents and people. And this is something that needs to be kept in mind. I would have wished for more accuracy. For example, the film is narrated by a character who is said to be the first cousin of the Phogat sisters. The character is not quite taken from real life, and yet turns out to be a rather important character in the screenplay because he is the guy that Phogat sisters practice with as children.
Dangal, of course, is a feature film and not a documentary. That’s why we might overlook the liberties taken. Some pinch of salt there.
And as a feature film, Dangal stands tall. In every department, that filmmaking has – from casting to editing. It is important to mention casting as it would not have been easy to get actors who could pull the roles of Geeta and Babita Phogat. And what performances from each of them! Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar play the young Geeta and Babita. They get most of the first half to themselves when the characters are being trained. Both are marvelous. Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra play the adult Geeta and Babita and the hard work they put in is seen. All of the four girls have actually trained in wrestling and that is seen in their quick manoeuvres on the wrestling floor. The story focuses more of Geeta Phogat as it is about the first International gold medal that was won by a female wrestler. Hence Fatima gets more screen time and gets more of a chance to demonstrate her skills. Also putting in a strong support is Sakshi Tanwar, as the mother. She is delightful to watch.
Aamir Khan ups the game again. After his last two films, the actor gets into a character where he leaves his own self behind. In Dangal, Aamir becomes Mahavir Phogat. He does not slip for once. He talks chaste Haryanvi, and wrestles like a pro. He gains weight like no other Indian actor ever and then gets back to shape like never before for barely a couple of sequences.
Dangal might remind you of Chak De! India, a fictionalized account of Indian hockey team becoming world champs. Apart from female protagonists, both films have a male coach who drives the players to achieve their best. There is almost a ‘yeh sattar minute' moment too, except here it is about the 120 seconds that each round in a wrestling match last. Dangal gets into the technicalities of the sport without boring you one bit. By the end, you will end out not just entertained and enthused, but also educated about wrestling and how it works. Something that Sultan did not quite bother to get into. Shimit Amin’s Chak De! India probably would rank a close second if we look at the sports films that have come out of Bollywood in last decade. Dangal, for now, is the best.